Sports

North Kitsap Soccer Club kicks in a new program

Tanner Caldwell, 7, takes control of the ball during a Little Kickers soccer match at the Zone Sportsplex Thursday. The indoor area provides year round facilities for sports and training.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Tanner Caldwell, 7, takes control of the ball during a Little Kickers soccer match at the Zone Sportsplex Thursday. The indoor area provides year round facilities for sports and training.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

POULSBO — The North Kitsap Soccer Club’s youngest shooters will soon be playing on a new field: equality.

NKSC coaching director Chris May said in reviewing the club’s programming, too much time was being spent perfecting the skills of the older players and not enough focus was on the needs of the little ones.

In the past the young-uns would compete against one another on teams, which looked similar to a confused, yet enthusiastic, school of fish darting to and fro. They played on bumpy and sloped fields at Port Gamble. Not all of the athletes were taught at the same skill level, as the coaches are all parent volunteers and not all are proficient in soccer’s rules and skills.

The results: Several kids who didn’t have much fun, the playing field wasn’t equal and the competition was too intense.

“It wasn’t very much fun and they weren’t learning,” May said. “Kids are way too young at that age to play soccer on a competitive level. Trying to have 5-year-olds compete is crazy.”

Experts say competition at 5 and 6 can be detrimental to learning.

Therefore this fall NKSC is launching a new program for its U6 and U7 players, aptly titled the “Micro Academy.”

The new focus is fun, the basics, and equal learning opportunities for all with an emphasis on child development.

The youngsters will gather two nights per week for five weeks. Each session will be one hour. During the first half athletes will learn the basics — passing, shooting and dribbling. After a quick snack and hydration break, the little ones will be divvied into teams of three or four to play small sided games. After about 10 minutes the teams will switch and repeat. Each week the teams will be different.

No longer will the fields at Port Gamble be the venue. May’s not 100 percent sure where the young David Beckams and Mia Hamms will meet, but he said possibly the fields at Gordon Elementary. Also getting nixed from the equation are the parent coaches, however they’re still encouraged to slap on a pair of cleats and learn alongside their kids.

To launch the Micro Academy NKSC is quasi-parentering with Little Kickers.

Little Kickers is a Seattle-based organization founded in 1999 by Arena Sports. The philosophy behind Little Kickers is to combine child development necessities — self-esteem building, teamwork, sharing, motor and social skills — with the requirements of soccer, all in the name of fun.

The Zone Sportsplex currently offers Little Kickers soccer programs, and will undertake the responsibility of coaching NKSC’s Micro Academy.

Unlike many parent coaches, Little Kickers soccer coaches are trained to teach kids soccer. The coach-to-player ratio will be one to five or six.

“It’s going to be a really intense ratio,” May said. “Other folks around Washington, the U.S. and Europe who’ve done this end up with a bunch of kids equal in training. They all get the same, and get a better enjoyment out of the game.”

Karen Crowe, Arena Sports owner and director of child development for Little Kickers, said the program focuses on the whole child, and “soccer is a great way to teach life skills while having fun.”

She said 5- and 6-year-olds are at a very creative stage in life, therefore the Little Kickers’ curriculum creates an environment that transforms the playing field into a giant game.

“Most kids don’t like to do dribbling drills, but they do enjoy dribbling, through the trees on the way to grandma’s or shooting space balls into outer space,” Crowe said.

Grant Sterly is the Zone’s Little Kickers coordinator, and he’ll also be the coordinator for NKSC. He’s witnessed the benefits of the program first hand. He recalled a child who didn’t want to play and was very shy. But by the end of the five-week session he was the most vocal and outgoing kid in the class.

“Just to see his social skills was really rewarding,” Sterly said.

The Micro Academy kicks into high gear this September. The cost is increasing slightly to $90 and includes a Micro Academy T-shirt, professional coaching, better fields and more fun.

May is excited to say the least.

“It’s going to be great,” he said. “The kids will have much more fun and learn the game.”

NKSC is also slightly tweaking the U8 program and will now focus less on competition and more on fun and learning. The U8 program will operate two nights per week for five weeks. Shelia Smith, a certified youth coach, will demonstrate a skill and then the players will break up into their prospective teams, coached by parents, to practice. U8 will have individual teams who will play 10 games, but only within the club.

Cost for the U8 sessions is $120, however registration is full. Registration for the Micro Academy may be done online at www.northkitsapsoccer.org.

Approximately 170,000 kids have or are enrolled in Little Kickers programs nationwide.

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