Youth soccer: Safer, but is it fun?


Splash photo Rich Shea

Zerihun Flessas takes a kick-in — instead of a throw-in — one of the new rules in play for youth soccer teams this fall.

Sam Shea, Watertown Splash staff

Youth soccer has changed in many ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of new rules for Massachusetts youth soccer, which covers the local town teams and TSL (Town Select Leagues), youth soccer is safer — but it could be less fun. 

With the new rules and regulations, which are all meant to keep everyone safe, players and coaches on seventh- and eighth-grade teams are being forced to adapt this fall.

One of the most significant rule changes is that the players cannot touch other players, except if they are going trying to get the ball. That is a big change to many parts of the game, especially when players are trying to do a move called shoulder to shoulder when the person with the ball attempts to shove off the defender with a shoulder. 

Another change is how the game will be reset. Usually, resets are done with throw-ins or corner kicks. But because players are not allowed to touch the ball with their hands (except for the goalie). They have also outlawed heading the ball, which is a form of passing and shooting. 

Zerihun Flessas (right) and Sam Shea (goalie) take part in a recent Watertown select soccer team practice. (Splash photo Rich Shea)

Another change is that they have replaced throw-ins with kick-ins, and corner kicks with corner kick-ins. A kick-in is where a player places the ball (with her or her foot) at the point where the restart will take place and then kicks it in.

The last significant change is that the players have to wear masks the whole time, making it hard to breathe, and will most likely lead to more substitutions.

Watertown Middle School seventh-graders Desmond Hazard and Zerihun Flessas were asked about playing with the new rules.

Watertown Splash: Do you think that the new rules take away from the experience of playing?

Desmond: Not much except for it’s harder to breathe with a mask on. Also, there are kick-ins instead of throw-ins.

Zerihun: Yes.

Splash: Do the masks make it harder?

DH: They make it a lot harder to breathe after running.

ZF: Yes.

Splash: Do you think that not heading makes the game harder or easier?

DH: It makes it a little harder when the ball is in the air?

ZF: Easier?

Splash: Are kick-ins and corner kick-ins easier or harder than throw-ins and corner kicks?

DH: They are easier because, with kick-ins, you can get the ball farther up the field. I like throw-ins more.

ZF: For kick-ins, it’s a little easier. For corner kicks-ins, it’s harder. 

SS: Is it still fun to play?

DH: Yeah, it’s still fun.

ZF: Yes.

The Watertown select soccer team has a socially-distant practice. (Splash photo Naomi Shea)

–Sept. 17, 2020–