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No daylight, no indoor turf ... welcome to winter soccer in Fairbanks, Alaska!

07/20/2012, 6:57pm CDT
By Madeline Greene

Minnesota has its fair share of unpredictable weather. From extreme snow and cold in the winter to lots of sun and humidity in the summer, training year round for soccer can be difficult. But soccer players in Fairbanks, Alaska face weather challenges of a completely different magnitude -- adjusting to the long periods of darkness in the winter, and nearly 24-hour daylight in the summer.

The Eclipse and Phoenix Soccer Club have brought their largest delegation to date to Schwan’s USA CUP, presented by PUMA. With four teams participating in the tournament, we sat down with the coach of the U11 team for some insight regarding their training.

The Eclipse and Phoenix Soccer Club is small, with only 14 teams from U11 through U18. But there are ways in which the small club has worked in their favor.

Aidan McGinty in action Friday afternoon

Aidan McGinty, an 11 year old from Fairbanks who plays on the U11 team, explained his experience at Phoenix. “Every one knows each other in the club because there aren’t many teams,” said Aidan. “Every one on my team is really close.”

The club’s season is in the summertime when the amount of sunlight in Fairbanks is vast. Daylight lasts almost 24 hours per day. With 21 hours or so of direct sunlight with a few hours of dusk, playing soccer outside in the middle of the night is a feasible activity. None of the outdoor fields have lights due to the unlimited amount of light during the day.

Outdoor training during the winter is different. Nearly impossible, in fact, from September into the first weeks of May. There are no indoor artificial turf fields so teams train in school gymnasiums. Training two to three times a week with a weekend indoor game on wood and rubber floors poses challenges when soccer moves outdoors for the summer season. There are advantages and disadvantages to this system.

“It helps you a lot being inside because you think the ball will go farther so you run faster and you’re running through the ball more,” said Aidan. “The ball is easier to control because you are used to the small space. When you’re inside you pick your head up faster because there aren’t that many people out there. Outside, you pick your head up faster and have tons of options. It is helpful but can be a burden too.”

“They are very different,” said Alan, who has coached at the club for seven years. “One of the advantages is that the ball moves much faster, bounces a lot so they really have to focus on that. The negatives are the lack of space, very small-sided three or four person tactics. So when we get outside we are playing really small. We are really tight. That is the largest struggle as well as the cost of paying for the facilities.”

Once the summer season has started, the teams have to transition to the fields and their style of play and the skills they’ve learned need to be re-examined. From ball handling to formations, there are limited exercises and drills that can be practiced indoors.

“It gets old because you have about eight months of winter and you just get really tired of it,” said Alan.

The advantages and disadvantages of playing indoors for eight months of the year have been seen here at USA CUP.

Coach McGinty’s wife, Stephanie said, “This is the second time we’ve been to USA CUP because our daughter played on the U16 team. We were prepared for the weather. That was the biggest challenge for them. They started in slow motion and now it is like they are finally adjusting a little bit. I think the kids are all wide-eyed. It has been such a great experience for them.”

While here at USA CUP, the Fairbanks teams are enjoying the sights and sounds of Minnesota. From the Mall of America to movies and water parks to lakes, the club is treating this as a vacation.

“My favorite thing about USA CUP has been meeting all the international teams,” said Aidan. 

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Tag(s): July 20, 2012