November 11, 2009 8:59:00 AM
The soccer options offered by the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority continue to grow.
The success of the CLRA''s Columbus United, a competitive Division II soccer club, has motivated the authority to introduce an Under-8 Developmental Program that will help prepare players for the transition to U-10 play.
The primary goal of the program is to offer players enhanced skill training and challenging conditioning to help prepare them for the move to the next level.
Tom Velek, director of competitive soccer for Columbus United, said the U-8 program is needed to help players bridge the gap from the U-8 level, which has fewer rules and is less competitive, to the U-10 level, which features more structured play.
"This league will put players in a better position to compete when they get to the U-10 level," Velek said. "We want to make sure we develop our children and that we create a top-notch program."
Velek, who coached a U-7 team last season, said he felt bad last year when he had to tell parents and players who wanted to continue to play there wasn''t a next step for them. He said the development of the U-8 program allows coaches to help players build their love for the game of soccer.
The cost to register for the league is $25 for U-8 players already registered for CLRA''s recreation leagues. The cost is $35 for players not yet registered with CLRA.
Players who live in Caledonia are also eligible for the program.
Velek said the U-8 program also will give players in the Lowndes County area an opportunity to face a wider range of competition, including competition in the Frostbite Challenge Tournament in January in Starkville.
The creation of the U-8 Developmental Program is just one way soccer in Lowndes County is growing.
This season, Columbus United, which is in its third season, will offer competitive soccer options for players ages U-10 all of the way through U-19.
In its first year, the club had two U-10 teams and one U-12 team. Last year, the club expanded to five teams, including a U-14 girls club team.
The growth of Columbus United is something that excites CLRA program director Greg Lewis. The success last year of Columbus United teams and the club''s victories this season reflect how the club is helping players improve.
"The program has come along tremendously," Lewis said. "I am very proud of the number of United players who have made it to junior high and to high school. I see Columbus United truly helping our kids. I see the difference on the kids on United squads, and I see it when they take the field on the recreation side."
Last weekend, in addition to the CLRA Commercial Dispatch U-12 girls team winning the Mississippi Soccer Association 2009 Coaches Cup, the U-12 boys took second. The finish marked the first time the U-12 boys have advanced to the championship match.
Columbus also had teams in the U-8 and U-10 age groups compete.
Velek is equally excited because he feels the club is offering a wide variety of opportunities that aren''t available in other communities. He also said the club is doing its best to keep its costs, which he said are cheap compared to other clubs in the area, down.
"Greg and I wanted to give the older ones something to aspire to," Velek said. "We also wanted to give the younger ones something to aspire to so they can continue with United teams. We don''t want them to go to Tupelo or to Starkville to play."
n In other soccer news, Columbus High School will hold a Youth Soccer Night on Nov. 17 as part of Columbus'' matches against Caledonia.
All youth soccer players from Columbus and Caledonia will get in free if they wear their team''s jersey.
The girls junior varsity match will begin at 5 p.m., followed by the
girls varsity match at 6.15 p.m. and the boys varsity match at 8 p.m.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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