HARWICH ─ What do you get when you combine one ball, one long stretch of beach, and an enthusiastic group of kids?
Perhaps one of the most fun summer activities around – beach soccer!
The excitement, courtesy of the Harwich Police Soccer Club, with support from Harwich Recreation, is happening each week at Red River Beach.
“It started the end of last summer,” said Harwich Detective Segeant Bob Brackett, who helms the soccer program. “I had thought about different, creative ways of always keeping the game interesting for the kids, and realized we have a very big commodity in our backyard called the beach.”
Brackett, who also runs the winter indoor Futsal program, took his idea for beach soccer to Eric Beebe, the town's director of recreation.
“He was very cooperative,” Brackett said.
Suddenly, a new program was born. Last year beach soccer was held only for a few short weeks, mainly to gauge interest among local families. As interest and numbers increased between the beach soccer program and the indoor soccer program, Brackett knew he was on to something good. Even better? It's free.
“Last summer we did it with a small group for three weeks on Saturday mornings and the kids loved it,” he said. “I decided that this year we'd try to expand it.”
This summer's program began July 7 when roughly 50 players between the ages of 9 and 14 arrived ready to play. Since weekends can be a busy time for families, Brackett chose Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 8 p.m. During that time frame players are divided into teams, the playing area is marked off with rope and flags, and basic skills are taught during game play by volunteers such as Terry Deveau and John Sullivan.
“I couldn't do it without those two,” said Brackett.
Kids also have the option to try out different field positions, such as forward or goalie, and unlike traditional soccer, there is no offsides, so players are free to cover the entire field.
Brackett said the similarities between beach soccer and indoor Futsal are many, but that there are also differences.
“It's very similar, with very similar rules,” he said. “But it's a bigger workout, running and playing in the sand.”
Although there is a certain appeal to playing barefoot in soft beach sand, players quickly learn that running in sand poses new challenges with regard to proper balance, maneuvering, and ball control.
“It's more difficult to control the ball,” said Brackett. “The ball has very unpredictable bounces on the sand so you try to keep the ball in the air as much as possible. It's more of an aerial game than indoor futsal. You're using different skills.”
What Brackett appreciates about beach soccer is that it teaches important soccer skills in a somewhat unique manner, often so that kids don't realize they've learned something new until they're in a traditional game and put their expanded abilities to work.
“Besides the physical benefits of the workout that it gives, they take away a broader skillset in the game of soccer, but they don't even realize they're building that skillset,” he said.
Another key attribute of beach soccer is that it keeps kids excited about the game.
“Playing the same game all the time, I've seen kids get bored,” Brackett said. “When you offer kids these types of opportunities, it keeps them in it. Keeps their interest.”
Then there's the fun of hanging out at the beach with friends both familiar and new.
“The social aspect, that's a big part of what we do,” said Brackett. “We're trying to keep these kids doing something productive with their time.”
Brackett said the club settled on Red River Beach because it offered the widest expanse of sand for game play, while also leaving plenty of room for beachgoers to continue enjoying their time. Although the space does allow Brackett and his volunteers to accommodate a fairly large number of players, they have to be cautious of their overall numbers.
“We don't turn anybody away, but we're also limited on how many people we can accommodate,” Brackett said, adding that the program is aimed at local and visiting youth within the Harwich area. Ideally, Brackett would love to see the program expand enough to include even younger children, which will require more volunteers and a bit more beach space.
“If the people in the town wouldn't mind us taking over more of Red River Beach, we'd have more fields set up,” he said. “But we have to take into consideration the non-soccer players in town who just want to use the beach.”
So far, the program appears to be a huge success.
“The kids love it. The parents love it,” said Brackett. “It keeps the kids active. It gives them a chance to come to the beach, get a workout, and learn the game of soccer. They take away a love of soccer, and just have fun together.”
The Harwich Police Soccer Club Beach Soccer program takes place each Thursday night, weather permitting, through Aug. 25 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The co-ed program is free for players between 10 and 14 and is free. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more photos visit seasidesnapshots.smugmug.com/Harwich-Police-Soccer-Club/.