Some call it soccer, some call it football, but a lot of Torontonians playing one of the world’s most well known games can’t call it anything at all.
That’s because of Lil’ Strikers – a program at Soccerworld where children as young as just eighteen months come to build a foundation for not just sports, but life.
With roughly 500,000 children across North America registered, parents are flocking to the program based on the fundementals of sport and healthy living, catering to children up to nine years old.
Rooted as a child development program, the tots are busy having fun while they are taught basic soccer skills while building coordination, confidence, teamwork, and cooperation.
“We basically travel all over the world looking for the best soccer programming in different age groups, and this is the best one in these age groups that was focussed on keeping the fun in the sport – which was the incredible part of it,” said Robert Ortali, co-founder and Program Director.
“The main goal is to provide soccer for families from the time that they’re born until they can’t enjoy it anymore. We have programs here that are for people who are seven. Lil Strikers is incredible for 18 months, and it goes right up to nine years old.”
Ortali, as you may have noticed, refered to the participants as people. The children are encourage to run around, be silly – because in the classes like Bunnies (18-24 months), fun is what it’s about.
Besides just being plain adorable, this age group is plain full of energy, hence the specifics of the program.
Essentially building fundamentals such as hand-eye coordination, balance, and basic motor skills, the program incorporates the methods that toddlers learn best from – hands on experience.
Obstacle courses, parachutes, cones – it might sound like “Tough Mudder” for kids, but it is anything but.
If the smiles on their faces weren’t evidence enough of an effective and enjoyable program, the smiles on the parents faces, acts as the ultimate seal of approval.
In this group, participants are learning not just with the child development professionals, but their parents as well.
“I’m an elementary school phys-ed teacher, my son is six, he has been playing soccer since he was three, but this is our first season,” says mom Roz Morton.
“We chose this program because they start with skill base, and they do a little bit of game play at the end. It’s better organized than the city programs. I like that it’s indoors so it doesn’t shut down on rainy days – in Canada you can’t always count on good weather.”
Adult participation is required during the incremental stages of Thumpers and Cottontails until the participant is roughly three and a half years old.
The children are weaned off larger classes while simultaneously transitioning into a little more indepence from parents, and on the field. Hoppers (three to four years old) is the first class where children are compeletely independent and become more fast-paced.
Next, comes Jackrabbits, where children are introduced to team play and classes start to resemble more of a soccer game. Scrimmages are the main focus and help bring teamwork and and an understanding of applicable soccer skills to the field.
Big Feet is the last level before Micro, where confidence is developped with in-game situations, but is still a non-competitive environment.
The tender age at which the program is so strong, is teaching subtle life messages that children can take off the field and translate into a healthy lifestyle.
“Moreso than kids just playing soccer, they emphasize the fitness aspect and proper values and making sure they are healthy – the fous on their futures, not just the day of the camp,” says CityTV fitness expert Stephanie Joanne on an open practice day.
“I was just hanging out with a bunch of three year olds, even though they can’t comprehend the rules of the sport, it s instilling the values that is fun to work out or run.
“I don’t want to use the term work out, but it’s fun to run and sweating is good times. Having those values from 9 months old that moving is okay and preferred to sitting down – you can teach that at any age.”
With flexible hours, and locations in now in Toronto and Hamilton, Lil’ Strikers is growing rapidly through word of mouth more than anything.
Check out www.lilstrikers.ca for more information.