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Life is a Beach

Sand Soccer Tournament Provides a Different Soccer Experience for Players

Some teams enter faraway soccer tournaments to prepare for the upcoming season. Others do so to give their players a taste of higher-level competition. And still others hope that, by winning prestigious regional tournaments, they can raise the profile of their clubs and aid their recruitment cause. But for a truly different soccer tournament experience, Dick Whalen thinks he has the answer: Sand Soccer.

Whalen is the Director of the North America Sand Soccer Championships that will take place in Virginia Beach, VA over the weekend of June 7-8. Although beach soccer is mostly associated with the warmer climates of the Copacabana Beach in Rio De Janeiro, the US version of the sport actually traces its earliest roots, to New England, where Giancarlo Signorini, an Italian who lives in Greenwich CT, was the first to establish an organized set of rules for soccer played on sand.

That was in 1992. Eventually, Signorini and his partners founded Beach Soccer Worldwide, a company which overseas Pro Beach Soccer, its trademarks and events. Pro Beach Soccer became a big success, promoting events and leagues all around the world, featuring some high-profile players and garnering significant television and coverage. That success has led to an explosion in the popularity of sand soccer as a youth participation sport, so much so that Whalen attracted 546 teams and over 5,000 players to last year’s edition of his event.

Whalen started the Virginia Beach tournament with 28 teams in 1994. Now it attracts teams from over a dozen US states, including some from New England, and several foreign countries. One of the adult divisions, the men’s pro/am US Open division, even offers a substantial cash prize so as to attract semi-pro teams from across the country and around the world.

Beach Soccer

One such team is Flamilia, a team of Brazilian natives whom Whalen compares to the Harlem Globetrotters. They enter the field before each game banging drums and parading a Brazilian flag. Once the soccer is over, players from Flamilia have been known to upstage some of the organized musical events on the nearby boardwalk with their own impromptu salsa show.

The vast majority of participants, however, are youth players from premier and select clubs, as well as rec. teams. The 5 v 5 games are played on a “field” 25 yards by 30 yards (30 yards by 40 yards for some of the adult divisions). Goals also vary in size depending on age-group, from 6’ x 8’ to 7’ x 18’. Emphasis is on attacking play with no offside and no tackling. Games are divided into three eleven-minute periods with two-minute breaks in between. The fact that a soccer ball does not roll on the sand means that the most successful teams are the ones who are able to keep the ball elevated. And, of course, fitness is a premium.

While the Virginia Beach tournament is the largest on the East Coast, there are also events in Florida, Maryland, Long Island, and there has even been a Connecticut version.

So, as the tournament season approaches, and clubs look for ways to broaden the soccer experience of their players, a trip to Virginia Beach might be just what the doctor ordered. It will provide a break from the usual competition of grass soccer, it will encourage teams to play a different type of soccer and develop some different soccer skills, it will certainly be good for fitness training. And most important of all, Sand Soccer is a real blast.

For more information on this year’s event click here

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