Typical soccer court in Brazil:
Typical soccer field in the U.S.:
Notice some differences:
- The soccer courts in Brazil are convenient to where the kids live, fostering lots of unorganized play. If there are homes near the U.S. soccer fields, they are distant. U.S. soccer fields are too often built on land far enough away from where kids live, that it’s only convenient to play through organized play when their parents can drive them.
- The Brazilian soccer court is small, this fosters development of ball control in tight space. The U.S. soccer field is large. This fosters kicking the ball into space and running to it, especially at youth levels when all too often the fields are much too large for the number and age of players on the field. These large fields favor future track stars and do little for developing soccer skills that will help on the world stage.
- The Brazilian soccer court has kids playing on it. The U.S. soccer field does not. Sure, U.S. soccer fields are burgeoning on weekends, but the rest of the week they’re empty, while the Brazilian soccer courts are busy all week long. Even on the weekends, when U.S. soccer fields are busy, each team only gets so much play time, so play time still pales in comparison to kids in Brazil playing several times a week at their local court.
- The Brazilian soccer court is concrete. The U.S. soccer field is grass. Not only does the concrete help the Brazilian kids develop ball control, but it’s also playable more of the time. Games and practices on grass fields get canceled due to rain and have seasons where the groundskeepers rest the fields so the grass can grow back. All, the while the Brazilian (and other countries where soccer courts are common), are playing. Plus, maintenance of a grass field is constant. A concrete court needs new paint every 10 years or so.
- The large fields in the U.S. are not conducive for pickup play. You need 10-20 people or else it’s nothing but running. Like basketball courts, soccer courts are conducive for small sided games, even 1v1, so play is more likely to occur more often.
I don’t believe just building soccer courts is the answer. The soccer courts in Brazil exist because the kids were playing in the streets because they love soccer, so their local parks department built the courts to serve an activity that was already prevalent.
If you just build soccer courts in areas where people aren’t already playing street ball, then my guess is those courts will go unused.
So, the courts are really just a marker for soccer culture, rather than a cause.
But, I don’t think building a few courts and fostering more small-side, unorganized play would hurt. More on that in a future post.