Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

NSCAA convention features a room of soccer innovation

The National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention continued into the night on Thursday, long after the MLS SuperDraft wrapped up for the day. As those in attendance got to wander the aisles of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, they likely learned more about advancements in soccer than perhaps they'd ever intended.

It was a chance for vendors, companies, programs, and charities to come together and attempt to sell their mystery soccer elixirs to the public.

Willing representatives need merely a shred of your attention. One second longer of eye contact and they'll pull you in. Circle the room once and you'll learn that this water cooler was featured in "The Waterboy," "Friday Night Lights," and other films, or these goals inflate just like the balls do.

It's a great place to learn more about the sport. Or to learn how much you have yet to learn. Or to see a man dressed like a cow.

Some items were more impressive than others,  and three of them are featured below.

-  How about an indestructible soccer ball made out of Crocs and invented by Sting? 

That may not be 100% accurate. Sting was an initial investor, and the material they're made out of was inspired by the same material with which Crocs are made. But see how I pulled you in there? There's a lot of that in the exhibition hall.

One World Futbol is a noble cause, explained to me by Sandra Cress, a company representative and inhabitant of Kenya. She explains how their program – for every ball purchased, one is simultaneously purchased for a third world village – has stretched to multiple continents and been widely considered a success in parts of the world where they had previously been kicking balls of trash.

"It was inspired by kids in Darfur. [Founder] Tim Jahnigen designed the ball with start-up funds from his friend Sting, who paid for the research and development, and it debuted in the 2010 World Cup."

With further backing from Chevrolet, One World Futbol has put an additional 1.5 million balls into the world, having already gotten 700,00 balls to more than 160 countries.

So durable are they, that the prototypes, initially given to villages four years ago, are still being kicked around in Kenya.

"The material is meant to be impermeable to weather," Cress says. "Unicef did a test in 80 schools in Uganda and they tested our ball and standard inflatables; in the first week, 75% of the standard inflatables failed, and in the first month 100% failed. At the end of the four month test, 79 of our 80 balls were still in play, and one was missing."

Some lucky gang of meerkats is enjoying the everlasting nature of their new toy.

- Meanwhile, exchanges in the room's far corner are continuously interrupted by the sound furious kicking.

Further inspection revealed that children were rushing into a caged area, one kicking a ball at a short metal wall, no higher than his knees, with a target in place. It bounces back to him, he nabs it with his foot, and does the same to four other identical walls, all in separate corners of the cage, before sprinting back out again.

Off the side, a radar gun has been monitoring the action.

This is a "five measure protocol" of Soccer Genius, the man guarding it explains, as a cackling child goes sprinting into the cage.

Wireless sensors are everywhere on the walls, measuring dribbling, shot velocity, and foot speed from the comprehensive workout, but the actual execution isn't even the world-changing part. Every time is recorded during the drill, and logged into a computer, which uploads them to the internet and lets final times be ranked and cataloged statistically. It allows for kids to compare to their friends, or more productively, for coaches to seek out players who may possess the skill set for which they are looking.

The competition is only growing more fierce, but to be fair, these kids are using a soccer ball that is round. Nearby, a man is standing over one in the shape of a triangle that demanded explanation.

"We call this the heart," a Corpus Training rep says, pointing to the triangle, "and this the pill," pointing to a round, cold relief capsule-shaped ball.

The idea is that a player would be kicking a ball that can go in any direction, or more to the point, not necessarily the direction in which they kicked it. "Use it for a few minutes, go back to a standard ball, you're more dialed in, your reactions are better, your coordination's better, your concentration is better," I'm told.

The Pill will bounce more aggressively, while the triangle is quicker, without the elevation.

"It's gone from just soccer to multi-sport," it's explained. "It helps in cross-training, hockey goalies, anyone that needs quickness, ski racing, all of that. It's helped kids with medical problems and special needs."

The majority of companies wer showing off products beneficial to soccer, or the world, or both, in an inspiring marriage of global awareness and sport. Which is probably what makes this one so popular historically. Except in, you know. In America.