Lincoln Youth Soccer flourishes, but field space an issue

Lincoln Youth Soccer flourishes, but field space an issue

Players from the Lincoln Youth Soccer Association march in the Lincoln Memorial Day Parade. (Breeze photo by Bill Murphy)

LINCOLN – For parents like Catherine Williams, Saturday mornings mean soccer.

While some may begrudgingly load their car with shin guards, soccer balls and cleats, Williams said she loves connecting with other families at the field as she supports her 8-year-old son Morgan.

Morgan started playing with Lincoln Youth Soccer Association at age 4, beginning with LYSA’s recreational league, which Williams said is the foundational tier of the program. His mom, who now serves as the nonprofit’s secretary, said the organization has cultivated friendships for both her and her son.

“On a Saturday morning it feels like you see every family in Lincoln at the field,” she said. “You’re constantly running into people.”

Some children, like hers, begin playing as young as 3 or 4 years old, running around in “uniforms like dresses” like “swarms of bees.”

Most begin with the recreational program to gain basic skills, with participants playing against others within the LYSA organization.

More advanced players can try out for the league’s competitive program, which competes against nearby communities such as Cumberland, Pawtucket and East Providence in the Rhode Island Youth Super Liga.

In addition, LYSA now offers a third tier, partnering with Liverpool F.C.’s youth program to offer a “premier” level of competition for players who make the team.

Players also benefit from the LYSA’s partnership with the Olympic Development Program, which brings in professional coaches to work with the teams. While many youth sports organizations are coached by volunteer parents, Williams said LYSA’s partnership with the ODP means participants get the best training.

“It makes a big difference,” she said.

The popularity of the program has exploded since its formation 18 years ago, with the recreational program growing by roughly 100 participants since last year alone.

LYSA’s competitive league has fall, winter and spring programs, with participation rates rising in each. In the spring of 2013, fewer than 70 children played in the competitive league, compared to nearly 200 now.

“Overall, the numbers are still rising,” Williams said. Though the majority of LYSA’s members are from town, you don’t have to be from Lincoln to participate.

While Williams said the organization is grateful for the boost in popularity, they have experienced some growing pains along the way thanks to an overall lack of adequate playing space in town to support the growing number of participants.

They currently play at Lime Acres, sometimes spilling over to Lincoln Middle School. That field, Williams said, is “not currently equipped to hold the sheer amount of practices and games we need with this amount of kids.”

When it rains, the field becomes waterlogged for much longer than normal, lacking adequate drainage. Practices and games have been rescheduled because of this, much to the disappointment of parents.

In short, “it’s not up to snuff,” she said, adding that LYSA has been making strides in working with the town on exploring ideas for new field space.

“We’ve been proactive about thinking outside the box and identifying different locations,” she said. In the meantime, she said, “I feel like putting up a ‘please pardon our appearance sign.’”

All in all, Williams said the organization is thankful for the growth. “We’re doing everything in our power to give the families the most competitive and best program for their kids’ development,” she said.

She’s also grateful for the friendships she’s formed from the sidelines of her son’s games. “We really all come together,” she said.

The children in the program are also given an opportunity to learn lessons in sportsmanship and teamwork while garnering new friendships. “They trick-or-treat together, spent the Fourth of July together, birthday parties, potlucks and camp in the summer. They have a good time,” she said.

In a world with endless options for youth activities, from scouting to athletics, Williams said the bond among the families is what sets LYSA apart from other organizations.

“The connectedness of the families and organization is awesome,” she said. “It’s a very close-knit community.”

LYSA offers programs for kids ages 4 to 16 and is sanctioned by Soccer Rhode Island. It is 100 percent volunteer-led. For more information, visit lysa.gotsport.com .