Soccer Shots offers kids a low-pressure-but-high-energy introduction (or reintroduction) to the beautiful game. Registration is open for summer programs!
When I think of little kids playing soccer, several very specific things come to mind…
- Orange slices
- Capri Sun
- Hours spent in the car, driving to and fro
- Bored and/or shouting parents
- Bored and/or crying children
I know, those last two aren’t necessarily true for all youth soccer experiences, but they’re true enough that at least some of you gave me an “Amen” when you read them, for sure.
Let me be clear: I think soccer is fantastic. It is, as they say, “the beautiful game,” and I’m legitimately in awe of the athleticism it requires.1 But while I’m all for my kid developing and honing the skills one learns from soccer, we just don’t have it in us to manage to hoopla that can come with it2. So, last spring, when I first found out Richmond offered an alternative to the traditional team approach, I was stoked.
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Back in 1998, former soccer pros Jeremy Sorzano and Jason Webb founded Soccer Shots after recognizing a lack of quality soccer programs for kids ages eight and under. Soccer Shots began franchising in 2005. In 2009, when Evan Harding moved to Richmond to play for the Kickers, he opened up a Soccer Shots franchise here in town.
Harding currently serves as Director of Soccer Shots Richmond and runs the program with the help of Assistant Director Andrew Wells. Wells played for the Richmond Strikers and the Richmond Kickers youth team growing up.
“In high school, because I was playing with the Kickers, I got the opportunity to practice with the Kickers pro team, which is where I met [Harding] and started coaching some with him at Soccer Shots,” says Wells.
The Soccer Shots approach offers young players (or players-to-be) a fun, non-competitive space to actively develop the skills needed to be productive on the pitch. In fact, during a Soccer Shots session (or class, really) every child has a soccer ball for the majority of every lesson.
“When you put 10 [or] 12 children on a field with one soccer ball, many kids will only touch the ball a few times during the course of a game. It is crucial that children get as many touches on a soccer ball as possible in order to develop coordination and become comfortable using their feet,” says Well. “We also make sure it is an extremely fun atmosphere, so that while the kids are learning skills and progressing at their own pace, they are also having more fun and not standing in line or doing ‘drills.'”
Skills covered during a Soccer Shots season aren’t limited to handling the ball. Through each session, Soccer Shot coaches emphasize the importance of being a good sport both on and off the field.
“Throughout a lesson children will have to deal with some highs and lows that give them an opportunity to build up important character traits,” Wells says. Each week’s lesson includes a “character word” that the kids have the chance to put into practice out on the field.
“For example, if the word for the week is ‘honesty,’ we may play sharks and minnows, and we heavily emphasize that the children should be honest about whether or not they get tagged–even if they do not want to be a shark,” explains Wells. “Another week the word could be ‘confidence,’ and we give them opportunities to show that they are confident and are able to do things that they may have thought were to hard to do.”
“‘Respect’ is a word we have at the start of every season, and we have it in the beginning because throughout a season a coach will be able to use this word to help kids in every lesson,” Wells adds. “We thank children for being respectful to us or to a friend during a lesson, and when a child is struggling, we can emphasize that he or she should be respectful when dealing with us or a friend.”
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Soccer Shots Richmond offers “school programs” which require participants to be enrolled at the hosting school, as well as “park programs,” which are open to the community. It currently serves three ages groups: Mini for ages two to three; Classic for ages three to five (pre-kindergarten); and Premier for ages five to eight (kindergarten through second grade). The programs emphasize the same soccer and social skills, but do so in an age-appropriate way.
“With the two-to-three-year-olds, it has to be very simple, as they are new not only to soccer but to life, in general,” Wells laughs. “The three-to-five-year-olds can be the silliest group, as children this age love to use their imagination. We make sure they are doing that-pretending to be a bumble bee making honey or a penguin collecting fish-in a lesson. The six-to-eight-year-olds are where it is most ‘serious.’ We tend to just play more active games with them and introduce a little more competition in the games [like] sharks and minnows and knock out games. This gives more opportunity to develop character traits with them that deal with showing respect even in disappointment.”
While Wells acknowledges that working with such young kids has its challenges, it’s well worth it.
“It is one of the most rewarding jobs you can have. In many cases we are introducing a child to the game of soccer for the first time in their life, or after they have had a bad experience with another program. It is so awesome to see children grow to love the game or have a renewed view of it. I have countless stories of children that were able to grow and mature due to Soccer Shots,” says Well. “Over the course of a season it is extremely rewarding to see them having fun and maturing into strong confident kids.”
As a parent of a Soccer Shots alum, I can give that an “Amen,” for sure.3
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Soccer Shots will finish up its spring sessions in the next couple of weeks, but registration is already underway for the summer. All summer programs are open to the public with weeknight and Saturday morning options available; each class lasts about an hour. The cost is $72 per child. Summer programs begin the week of June 13th and end the week of July 20th.
To learn more about Soccer Shots, visit soccershots.org.
- I also totally copied Alex Morgan’s pre-wrap headband all last summer. ↩
- I am an incredibly non-competitive person married to an equally non-competitive person with whom I parent an equally non-competitive child. We like sports, but we’re going to get all worked up about them, especially when the athletes involved still need help tying their cleats. Also, unless my son expresses a genuine love and/or undeniable talent for a sport, I’m really not interested in giving up every Saturday of our lives for it. ↩
- Wells (or Coach Andrew, as he’s known in our house) was one of my son’s Soccer Shots instructors. He’s even more enthusiastic in person than he appears in the written word. I know that seems kind of impossible, but it’s true. ↩