A Winning Soccer Lesson

On a recent Tuesday morning, the Class 5 students sat cross-legged on the floor of Gym 11, their hands holding fluorescent yellow balls. While their classmates played field hockey on the roof, this section was about to explore the fundamentals of a fall favorite: soccer!

Depositing their balls in the center of the gym, atop the large, shiny Gabby Gator decal, the students embarked on a series of lightning-quick exercises, guided by their teachers, Jeanne Allegra and Jane Anne Randolph. With colorful animation illuminating the gym’s giant screens and dance music setting the tone, these Middle Schoolers eagerly performed 20-second intervals of jumping jacks, push-ups, crunches, burpees, high knees and, finally, running in place, resting between each set.

Muscles warmed up and hearts pumping, they were ready to tackle some fancy footwork. “Grab a ball and spread out,” instructed Ms. Randolph. The class watched closely as she and Ms. Allegra demonstrated the “triangle” move, kicking their feet back, across and up.

Now it was the students’ turn. In their personal areas, they practiced their own triangles, focusing on keeping their efforts precise and not losing control of the ball. They also learned how to execute an “L-turn,” during which the ball is dragged back behind the player’s standing foot. “Now I want you to dribble into your space as fast as you can,” said Ms. Allegra.

With a group of younger students observing from the elevated running track, Class 5 manipulated their soccer balls in tight circles. It was hard work but fun, too, as their frequent smiles conveyed. The students also honed their defensive skills. “For the next 30 seconds, I want to see you dribbling at somebody,” said Ms. Allegra, encouraging the athletes as they attempted to navigate their balls past their opponents’ feet.

After an energetic burst of activity, the students paused their play to watch a video of professional athletes performing exhilarating soccer moves – dribbling, blocking, passing and scoring. Eyes glued to the big screen, they were transfixed. “What do you notice about these players?” asked Ms. Randolph. “They’re all women!” exclaimed one student as her classmates nodded in agreement.

Buoyed by the empowering video and their newfound confidence, the students further strengthened their coordination and stamina with an exciting contest. Divided into six teams – green, blue, yellow, red, purple and orange – they lined up across from a team member. Up and down the sun-splashed gym they ran, trying out their new moves and switching out players until everyone had a chance. With joyful cheers, they took turns drippling as fast as they could to the other side, earning points for each successful exchange.

As with many P.E. classes, the final minutes were devoted to a low-stakes, fitness-forward tag game. Armed with small balls in a rainbow of hues, the students launched into a fast-paced session of “Astroids & Aliens,” tossing balls at the “enemies” in a bid to transform them into aliens. Much laughter ensued as a kaleidoscope of soft balls exploded all over the gym, some hitting their targets, others missing and rolling along the floor.

After the balls were gathered up and dropped into a storage container, Ms. Allegra and Ms. Randolph returned to the topic of soccer. Directing their students’ attention to a diagram on the screen, they reminded them about three of the sport’s main positions: forward, midfielder, and defender.

“Next time I see you, you’ll be playing one of these,” explained Ms. Allegra. “So, what will you need?” A chorus of “shin guards!” rang out as these Class 5 students collected their water bottles and ambled down the stairs, no doubt energized by this vigorous morning in Physical Education.