Home Commentary Pensacola Youth Soccer includes laughs, goals, & celebrations.  And snacks.

Pensacola Youth Soccer includes laughs, goals, & celebrations.  And snacks.

Phil Nickinson is a part of our Community Voices series. He shares the lasted on Pensacola Youth Soccer and how to get involved.

March is a special time in Pensacola. It’s finally nearly warm enough to enjoy the beach, as our third spring begins. Flowers do their thing. Lawns start to reawaken. Pollen tries to kill us all.

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And hundreds of kids take to the soccer fields as part of Pensacola Youth Soccer.

The youth soccer landscape is a lot different these days. First is just the popularity of the sport and the scale of the league. The spring season in 2013 boasted 167 players.

This season, a decade later, is just shy of 900.

That’s due to any number of things — the sport’s affordability, the U.S. Women’s National Team having won the World Cup twice since 2015 and four times since 1991, Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League all taking off. Pick your favorite reason, but the end result is the same. Soccer is more diverse and more popular than ever, and no other recreational league in our area comes close.

We have a nonprofit steering the ship, with a volunteer board of directors I’m fortunate to be a part of. We have a League Manager with the experience of running a nonprofit in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in charge of day-to-day operations. We have generous donations to cover registration fees for those who can’t afford it. We have gently used uniforms and gear for those who could use a little extra help.

We have dozens of dedicated coaches of varying levels of experience who give their time each week, whether it’s a matter of herding cats in the younger age groups, to working on skills and tactics with the older players. And some of them serve multiple teams.

We have a strong partnership with the City of Pensacola, which ensures that our young players have safe facilities at which to play. Fields are mowed. Goals are moved. Lines are painted.

We have the privilege of growing new generations of referees. It’s one thing to play the game — and another to have to officiate it. Our in-house referee assignors and mentors help give teenagers the skills they need to navigate a fluid game, whether it’s a couple of Under-8 teams that can barely go toward the right goal, or high-schoolers on the verge of being just a little out of control. Plus they get paid pretty well, too, so it’s a great first job.

But most important is that we have hundreds and hundreds of enthusiastic parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and family, all giving a few hours of their time each week to support the youngsters.

Players come and go. Some try it out for a season and decide to do something else. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we’re grateful to have them for even just a single season. Others return year after year. Some move on to more competitive levels, which is great.

It’s like seeing an employee grow up and move on to a bigger and better opportunity. Other players are content with the level of competition that our recreational league provides.

I played in both. My kids have played in both. We’ve traveled all over the Southeast and played at some stellar facilities. But there’s also nothing quite like seeing three fields tucked inside Pensacola’s Hitzman Park, in the northeastern part of the city, full of city rec kids.

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of seeing families coming and going on a Friday night or throughout the day on Saturday. They’re there to see their children. Their grandchildren. Their friends and neighbors. They’re there to cheer.

And the kids are there to play. There will be laughs. There will, on occasion, be some tears. There will be goals and celebrations.

And after that final whistle, there will be snacks.

Registration for our spring season has wrapped up. But we’ll be back with a mini-season in the summer, and another full season in the fall.

For more information, visit PensacolaYouthSoccer.com, or call 850-396-2998.

Phil Nickinson

phil@pensacolayouthsoccer.com

Follow Pensacola Youth Soccer on Instagram at @pensacolasoccer and on Facebook at Pensacola Youth Soccer

 *Note from Local Pulse Editor: Phil Nickinson is a part of our Community Voices series. Community Voices is a group of Pensacola dwellers that are making a difference in our city by sharing best practices, experiences, their perspective on impactful subjects, and contributing expertise that leads to movement forward for a stronger community.