As any MLS fan can tell you, the professional soccer season is a long one. A typical season takes place over nine long months and includes 34 games, and that is before accounting for international matches, friendlies and tournament play. With such a grueling schedule, it is practically a necessity that MLS teams find creative ways to keep players energized and engaged.
It was for this reason that the Houston Dynamo used training to partake in an old-fashioned game of kickball, rather than holding a traditional practice. For many of the players, it was their first time playing the game since elementary school. According to defender Zarek Valentin the game was a much needed blast from that past that served its purpose perfectly.
“It was great. It got the guys in a good mood,” Valentin said. “I only kicked once with my left foot because I was really angry at my team for picking me last. But it was still fun just to get out there and do something a little different."
Fun is the key word there. In a frustrating season that has seen several close games go against the Dynamo, it is as important as ever to remember that players should have fun. For defender and team captain Tim Parker, events such as this are crucial for bringing the team together, even when they face a difficult stretch.
“Team building events like kickball, team BBQs, just those little events where you get to know guys off the field but also get to have a laugh with them on it, it's all part of building that camaraderie,” Parker said.
Kickball and other collaborative activities are certainly important in terms of building a team-first mentality. However, it is just as important to help keep the team in good spirits during the season.
"It gets morale boosted. It's a very easy way to do that,” Valentin said. “Seasons get long and ultimately finding ways that you can mentally manage to get through that is important. Playing kickball is one of those that breaks up the grind of everyday. My team lost but hopefully we'll be in a place to maybe do it one more time."
While Valentin may still not be over the results of the kickball game, hopefully the rest of the Dynamo are not quite as bitter, particularly now that the team is starting to get its desired results. While kickball was partially borne out of the team’s winless stretch over the summer, Parker is hopeful that the impact of this event will carry over into this positive run of form.
“Throughout the bad spell that we had, the best thing about it was that within this building we were pretty positive and confident about the team we were even though we weren't getting results,” Parker said. “I think that's something that we have to keep going and keep building on as we continue to progress because as we're getting results now, we want to obviously stay being that same team that has fun, that gets along with each other and believes that we can be a very good team.”