7 Reasons to Join a Pickup Soccer Group

Most people know John Cleese for his work in film. With 694 credits on IMDB, odds are you’ve seen him in multiple movies.

But did you also know he’s a published author? Several of his works are of the “made for film” variety. However, his book, “Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide,” takes on a more academic topic while maintaining his comedic character.

“By creativity, I simply mean new ways of thinking about things,” says Cleese.

Once his definition is established, the conversation turns to open and closed creative modes. Closed is linked to a rigid, highly structured, and purposeful chain of events. In contrast, an open creative mode is said to have four distinct traits:

1) Space for playfulness outside of daily routine

2) Time to grapple with a task or discomfort

3) Confidence to pursue a solution without fear

4) Humor/Joy to move beyond self-importance and enjoy the learning process

Bonus) Community engagement that values an open creative mode

Turning to soccer, have you or your child experienced this state or an open environment within the game? Does the environment allow for new solutions to existing problems?

If you have this environment, you’re on the right track. Keep investing in that community. Sadly, you’re probably in an atypical situation.

A decade into my soccer coaching journey, one of the fascinating discoveries I’ve made is that 1) most current coaches hated their youth/amateur/professional training sessions and 2) they run the same sessions with their own teams. We’re passing flawed environments onto the current generation of players.


The next time you're at a session, analyze the practices on a scale of very open mode to very closed mode. This is pure speculation, but I’m guessing 9 out of 10 practices range from closed to very closed. Tasks are predetermined, there’s little freedom of action, and the purposes are abundantly clear with little room for problem-solving.

Highly skilled coaches can introduce elaborate concepts in a play/game-driven setting, but, for whatever reason, coaching often comes across in a more authoritarian manner. To find an open creative environment, you might have to look outside of the average youth soccer experience.

One recommendation is to find local pickup soccer games. The benefits of pickup are numerous, but I’ll list 7 of the best. Before touching on the pros of pickup, the next two sections are pulled from The Soccer Parenting Handbook, which includes the insights of 1991 Women’s World Cup-winning coach Anson Dorrance.


Pickup soccer is a silver bullet, particularly when playing with players older and better than yours. It’s hard to find these games and get in. Drive around nearby fields to find a game. For younger kids, you may have to organize a game which would start as parent/kids pick up. Keep it fun and invest in some small-sided goals and cones. For kids over 13 years old, find adult games where they would be accommodating and be a good fit. It helps if the parents also play. Again, becoming an organizer of a game helps tremendously, which is as easy as finding 8-9 players, an open field time, and using WhatsApp for communications.

On a personal note, we find playing pickup with our kids to be more enjoyable than watching them play games. It’s an activity that you can enjoy together until your knees say no more and better judgment prevails.

After a month or two, you will likely see dramatic improvements in confidence and speed of play. The higher quality, faster, and bigger the pickup game, the more potential upside. Your players are also more incentivized to train more if they see a virtuous circle.

Why Girls Should Join Boys’ Pick-Up Games

Your speed of play and speed of decision making is going to be transformed as a boy is sprinting at you.
But why do I want this girl to still play with girls? For her to develop her personality and become elite. She still has to be able to take the game over and, against a boys’ team, she can never take the game over. They’re too athletic, so you play with the girls' team. So now when you get the ball, YOU are the general. YOU are making the final pass. YOU are scoring the goals.
Here's what's going to happen on a boys' team. You're going to learn to play very fast. You're going to learn to play the whole game at a sprint, to be very brave, because they're going to be some 50/50s and you're going to think, “I don't know whether that's worth it to me,” and you're going to have to decide whether or not you're going to risk having your legs broken. So you're going to have to do things like toe-poke it and get up in the air, because the boy’s going to be coming through. So that's still very good for the girl and the boys.
-Anson Dorrance

7 Benefits of Pickup Soccer

Now, onto the benefits of pickup soccer.

1) Less Structure

Pickup soccer roles are very general with little positional responsibility. Players float through the game, filling their team’s needs as they arise. Read the game, decide on your response. It’s a proactive approach that allows for freedom of action.

2) Less Pressure

Everyone in the pickup game wants to score goals and win, which is great from a competitive aspect, but the stakes are low, if not non-existent. Made a mistake? That’s fine, just work to get the ball back and try something a little differently next time. Don’t worry, there’s no coach to sub you off.

3) Greater Freedom to Experiment

Following from less pressure, there’s also more creative freedom. Players enjoy learning new skills and applying them against an opponent, but rigid practices dimmish opportunities. The open nature of pickup is the perfect environment to experiment.

4) A Chance to Play a new Role

With less structure comes more opportunity to experience different parts of the field. Since the objective is not to win at all costs, there’s more freedom to gain competence playing a new role. Wingers can move centrally for the game, defenders can play forward, and goalkeepers can see the field, which breaks the monotony of the playing experience.

5) Player-Led Developmental Focus

Many clubs plan their training in macro and micro cycles through tactical periodization. That’s simply a holistic rotation of topics to ensure well-rounded players. That means the training session objectives are predetermined. Pickup offers a chance to get some extra work in and let the player determine their area of targeted improvement.

6) Pursuing a Passion

This ties into joy. If the player enjoys playing the game and wants to take charge of their development, pickup offers that opportunity. THEY determine when, where, and how they play. It’s a great lesson in pursuing personal development, creating opportunities for growth, and committing to the learning process. Just ask Erling Haaland how he benefitted from pickup.

7) Communal Exercise

Friends and football, what can be better? Pickup groups don’t have to consist of friends but gaining that extra social element adds to the fun and is more likely to keep the player engaged with the group.

There are some things to look out for, including the safety of the environment (especially for younger children) and avoiding 13v13 games in tight space (pointless), but finding an enjoyable group, preferably with smaller numbers (3v3 to 8v8) is a great environment for play and open mode creativity.

Pickup - The Creative Supplement

Finding a pickup soccer group at your local park or field is one of the quickest ways to develop outside of team training, plus you have an abundance of freedom when playing. Try that new technical action. Learn to play in tighter space. Go toe-to-toe against someone more experienced and a better overall player.

Pickup is a chance to awaken the creative giant within, to experiment and grow without the pressures of a club environment. That’s not to say pickup should replace the club scene, that it provides the same developmental education, or even that the club environment is bad. It’s just different. There are different priorities coaches have to balance and the objectives are player and team performance within a coach-driven educational environment.

Pickup puts the learning process back in the player’s hands. It’s not replacing club sessions, but it is a great, free supplement in the developmental pathway. Join a group, get creative, and play to enjoy.