EPIC: Running an EPIC Program
Team formation is always a challenge with EPIC because of the diversity in age, size, and ability levels in any given group of players. Typically, new EPIC programs do not have enough players to create age divisions. They may start out with only 10 to 12 players, so efforts should be made to create two “roughly” balanced teams of six. Have fewer players? Even six total players to start with can play 3 v 3 soccer and have fun.
Try to always play small-sided games. Players get more touches on the ball, and therefore have more fun and learn the game more quickly. Also remember that with EPIC teams, buddies on the field equal more bodies.
Form two age groups whenever possible: suggested ages 4-12 and 12+. This is only a guideline, so do what would work best with the players that you have.
The EPIC Coach Manual offers ideas that will help determine player ability levels, such as performing informal assessments and using a progress log to chart skill development. Refer to this manual for details.
Scheduling Games & Practices
As a first step, decide with the coach(es) if practices and games will be held separately, on two different days, or back-to-back. It is a good idea to poll the parents to see what their preferences are. Some parents may find it difficult to get their player ready for two outings and as a result attendance will suffer.
Work with the Regional scheduler to try and secure the same day, time and location each week. This is extremely important as many EPIC players function better when they have an established routine and are able to take any medication needed prior to a “big event” that is likely to increase stress and excitement. With a consistent schedule, parents can plan any medication times accordingly.
Regardless of how practices and games are scheduled, a 30-minute practice is sufficient for new EPIC players. This should be followed with a short scrimmage if games will be held on another day.
When the program is new, many EPIC coaches simply divide the available players into two teams which play each other. This practice may continue for a whole season as some EPIC programs tend to grow slowly. The following options will add variety and opportunities for interaction with different players:
· Play against an AYSO core team from your Region. Depending on the age range of the EPIC players, 10U, 12U or 14U teams are ideal. These players have some experience with the game and will understand the need to adjust their level of play to keep the game fun for everyone.
· Play against a team of buddies. Because the buddies are usually on the field with the players and should be accustomed to looking out for their needs, it is easy for them to transition into this role. Buddies learn to feed the ball to players who haven’t had the opportunity in a while, to step up the level of play for players who need more of a challenge and can still provide verbal direction and encouragement on the field.
· Play against EPIC teams from nearby Regions. Interplay is fun for mainstream players, so why not EPIC players too? This option is not always possible, but when driving distances are not too lengthy it provides a great opportunity for EPIC player and parent interaction. If a nearby Region does not have an EPIC program, help them start one!
Fields & Equipment
Just as all EPIC games should be short-sided, all EPIC games should also be played on smaller fields. The actual field dimensions could vary based on available space and the needs of the players. In general, the recommendation is that younger players use 6U/8U sized fields and older players use 10U sized fields.
Regional schedulers may not consider the need for all EPIC fields to be handicapped accessible, so it is important that this is communicated by the EPIC Administrator well in advance of field assignments.
· Shin guards are required.
· Soccer cleats are optional; athletic shoes are sufficient.
· Size 5 ball is recommended, as it is larger and easier to see and kick.
· Adaptive balls can be ordered for visually impaired athletes that have an audible noise for players to track and follow.
Be sure to gather accurate sizing information for all players as EPIC players will “fall out of formula” with uniform providers due to the variety of ages and sizes for each team.