Hoping to create a culture of pickup soccer in Evanston and beyond, a small group of parents and coaches have launched “Evanston Free Play,” a pilot program featuring small-sided, street-style soccer games in public parks for all ages and abilities.
The games are held in a portable soccer pitch that features side walls and netting for a non-stop, fast-paced game.
In addition to open play, Evanston Free Play will feature lightly supervised age-group play from 4-9 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday. Information will soon be posted on the City of Evanston’s website, cityofevanston.org. In the near future, it also will be possible to reserve the field for team play, team parties and other events, organizers said.
The Evanston Free Play program was brought to Evanston by the Mettle Sports Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with municipalities to help development of sports programming using five-a-side and small-sided soccer fields.
The project was spearheaded by Adam Tinkham, Rich Gallun, and Neal Levin, who share a common goal of increasing local soccer opportunities for kids. Mr. Tinkham, a Team Evanston coach with 15 years of experience and U.S. Soccer’s highest coaching certification (“A” license), has been a longstanding advocate for both pickup soccer and also small-sided play.
Mr. Levin, Executive Director of the Mettle Sports Foundation, worked with the parks and recreation department of the City of Evanston to facilitate the placement of this soccer pitch at Robert Crown Community Center and at different Evanston locations later this summer.
Mr. Gallun, a soccer parent with three boys playing soccer in Evanston, has yearned for a place for them to just go play soccer and have fun.
“My goal has always been to figure out a way for kids in Evanston to develop a critical mass for pickup soccer so kids have fun, stick with it and play on a regular basis, in addition to any organized soccer or other sports they may play elsewhere,” Mr. Gallun said.
Park districts often set up tennis and basketball courts and baseball fields, but soccer players often make do with leftover grass, said Mr. Tinkham. “What we’re trying to do is prioritize the sport,” he said.
“The StreetStadia soccer pitch gives them a place of their own to play the world’s game uninterrupted in a small-sided format, which is crucial for getting maximum touches in a limited amount of time,” Mr. Tinkham said. “Especially at the youngest ages, every second counts for development.”
Street or pickup soccer is where a great deal of learning and social experience takes place for young people. “It provides the foundation as more structured soccer is gradually introduced into their lives,” Mr. Tinkham said.
The facility in Evanston features five players to a side. With no out-of-bounds, the ball is constantly in motion which keeps the ball in play a higher percentage of the time.
“In Europe, these small-sided games are the way that people play soccer,” Levin said. “We are trying to bring this concept to the United States not only to create a better national soccer program but also to foster a healthy environment for kids to play sports and learn from that experience.”
Anyone wishing more information may contact Mr. Tinkham at firstname.lastname@example.org. Players and fans can follow along with the fun #EvanstonFreePlay.
Tuesdays and Thursdays
4-5 p.m.: Players up to and including U10 (birth year 2007 or later)
5-6 p.m.: Players up to and including U12 (birth year 2005 or later)
6-7 p.m.: Players up to and including U14 (birth year 2003 or later)
7-8 p.m.: Players up to and including U16 (birth year 2001 or later)
8-9 p.m.: Players age 17 and over.
5-8 p.m. Adults/kids together (i.e., mixed ages, parent-child)
(All other times are first-come first-served, subject to limited reserved time periods.)