Buckhead resident Massee Shula with his nephew, Anton Hundley, during a practice of SSA Northside. (Isadora Pennington)

On a crisp but sunny February afternoon, Buckhead resident Massee Shula was working on footwork drills with his nephew, Anton Hundley.

It was the first day of spring soccer practice for the Boys U8 team of SSA Northside, the Buckhead-based branch of the Southern Soccer Academy. Parents and relatives were invited to participate in the practice held at the Galloway Athletic Complex off Defoors Ferry Road.

“My sister has three boys, so we have to split up the time,” Massee said. “I’ve got the Tuesdays.”

In addition to practices twice a week, Massee said players have weekend tournaments that can take four to six hours depending on the location, such as Kennesaw, Alpharetta or even Buford. “We’ve driven as far as 45 minutes to get to some of these tournaments,” he said.

But, Massee said, it’s worth it. “It really is a family affair. We all just take a lot of great joy from it.”

His comments underscore the commitment many local families make to youth soccer. The average player spends 10.8 hours a week playing the sport, according to a 2019 study from Project Play, an initiative of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. And parents shell out an average $537 per year for youth soccer programs, said the study.

“It can be a little tricky with trying to juggle other children’s schedules, work schedules,” said Buckhead resident Lawren Hutchison, whose son Jackson, 7, attends Morris Brandon Elementary School and plays soccer at SSA. She has two other children who play sports, too. “It’s a lot, but he loves it so much.”

Buckhead resident Christian Khalil said he and his 6-year-old son, Kayan, may spend 15 to 20 hours a week on soccer. “He loves it,” Khalil said during the recent SSA practice. “I love it. I want him to do well. It’s our thing as a father and son.”

Buckhead resident Christian Khalil and his son, Kayan. (Isadora Pennington)

In addition to SSA Northside, there are a variety of clubs in metro Atlanta. That includes Buckhead’s popular Tophat Soccer Club. It offers girls soccer programs, with practice fields off Fairfield Road in Buckhead.

There’s also NASA Tophat, where the competitive high-level players graduate to, said Executive Director Dave Smith. It offers both boys and girls programs, recreational and competitive.

Inter Atlanta FC offers programs spanning U4 to U19. Its practice fields are off Arizona Ave near Kirkwood. 

And the Atlanta Concorde Fire Soccer Club fields more than 1,000 players in age groups from U6 to U19. Its home fields are on Ashford-Dunwoody Road, next to Marist School.

Families shared the many benefits that soccer offers their kids.

“It provides discipline, and it provides an outlet for lots of energy,” Hutchinson said. Massee said the young soccer players learn about teamwork and collaboration.

And for both parents and kids, it provides a network of friends.

“It’s a way to make friends, especially for us having moved into the country,” said Khalil, who moved his family to Atlanta from Lebanon about a year and a half ago.

“It’s an immediate community,” added Buckhead resident Lawton Bloom, whose 12-year-old daughter Anna plays at Concorde and 15-year-old daughter Eloisa plays at Tophat. The family had moved from Manhattan two years ago.

“My kids love it,” Bloom said, adding they’ve traveled as far as Raleigh and Charleston for tournaments. “It is a lot, but it’s quality time with them.”

A February practice of SSA Northside, held at the Galloway Athletic Complex off Defoors Ferry Road. (Isadora Pennington)

Amy Wenk

Amy Wenk is Editor of Reporter Newspapers. She can be reached at editor@reporternewspapers.net