WALL TOWNSHIP, NJ - Just a week ago the United States women's soccer team posted a 1-0 victory over Spain in the She Believes Cup. March Madness was getting ready to rev up. A few days later sports leagues across the nation shut down to help prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. The shut down includes youth sports. Games and practices are canceled leaving kids wondering when the next time is they will see their teammates and their coaches. March Madness is now March Sadness.

As the Director of Coaching for the Old Bridge Girls Soccer League through Soccer Specific Training, Will Gould understands how much of an impact the disruption has on young kids. He and Mike Turtle, the owner of Soccer Specific Training, came up with an idea to help keep players engaged during these difficult and stressful times. The pair is offering up free virtual soccer practices.

"The kids look forward to their weekly practices with their teammates and us, the coaches," Gould explained. "Soccer is a social, team-driven sport and for a lot of the kids, it is an outlet away from their day-to-day stresses. Our hope is that by logging on to our Facebook or Instagram live feed and training along with us and the other players who join, it'll give the kids a safe place to be and work through this tough time."

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Gould like many of the girls he trains in Old Bridge began soccer at an early age. He was introduced to the sport by his dad and started playing recreational soccer in kindergarten. From there he went on to play for club teams in Rahway and Manalapan as well as on high school teams for Christian Brothers Academy and Marlboro before playing at Kean University. He decided he wanted to become a trainer in high school.

"I had a family friend who was looking for some extra training," Gould said. "I started training her one-on-one and from there I slowly grew a small independent company. As I went on to earn my USSF Licenses and NSCAA Diplomas, I began branching out from private to small groups and eventually to teams. My path crossed with Mike Turtle in early 2012, and we've been working together ever since."

The pair came up with the idea of offering their players a virtual soccer practice as the coronavirus crisis hit New Jersey hard this week with the cancellation of all youth sports activities, school classes and more.
"Turtle and I had discussed a way for the kids to not only be engaged while stuck home, but also for us to interact and continue to do the one thing we're really passionate about, coaching soccer," Gould said.
To participate, all the players needs is a ball, four cones or objects that serve the same purpose, water and a winning attitude just like a regular soccer practice. The first session will be held on Monday afternoon. To join in, players can find the live stream of the practice on SST's Instagram or Facebook pages. If all goes well, soccer training will continue during the unprecedented coronavirus shut down.

"Soccer Specific Training is planning to do multiple sessions each week," Gould said. "If the demand is high enough, kids can log on daily."
What does Gould hope the participants take away from the virtual practices?
"As with any training session, we want the kids to be engaged and growing as players, but most importantly having fun," Gould said.
So should other youth sports coaches give virtual practices a try?
"I think that's the beauty of it," Gould said of virtual practicing. "Literally, any sport can be done virtually. As long as you have a coach willing to put in the time and effort and kids with access to view it and some small space to move."