Chasing bubbles, playing with giant parachutes and building cone towers … these do not sound like a line-up of activities for a typical soccer class, do they?! The Lil’ Kickers program at SoccerCity in Oklahoma City takes a unique approach to soccer skills training by focusing on highly creative, high-energy, developmentally appropriate games to help kids reach developmental milestones, learn to be good teammates and develop a love of sports.
The Lil’ Kickers Program was created over 20 years ago and is now taught through 100 venues nationwide, including at SoccerCity in OKC. Kids ages 18 months to 9 years old develop social, emotional and cognitive skills, enjoy plenty of energy-burning fun and get an introduction to soccer skills, all to benefit them in the long run, whether or not they choose to pursue sports.
We asked Hayden Wagner, Lil’ Kickers director at SoccerCity OKC, for insight on their unique approach.
These are not your traditional soccer drill classes! What makes the Lil’ Kickers program different?
Lil’ Kickers classes focus on child development just as much as they do soccer skills. We play games and do drills that not only work on dribbling, passing, scoring, etc. but also teamwork, listening skills and, for younger kids, activities that develop brain cognitive functions and understanding.
What are the developmental skills or milestones you are focused on for each age group in the Lil’ Kickers program?
Each class has a very different approach based on the age group. For ages 18 to 24 months, we work on developing brain cognitive functions, understanding and following instructions, hand-eye and foot-eye motor skills and coordination and just being active. Parents are welcome to take part in classes alongside this age group.
The 2 to 3 year olds work on understanding and following instructions, hand-eye and foot-eye motor skills and coordination, being active and forming independence from a parent for the fun games and drills. Parents are weaned off the field for this age group.
For kids ages 3 to 4 years, we work on more soccer application skills that you might recognize, like learning not to use hands, working as a team, boundaries such as out of bounds, introduction to competition and team concepts and definitely rewarding their effort. Then, from ages 5 to 9 years, we add technical skills such as dribbling, passing, scoring, etc. We also hone general cooperation skills and following complex instructions.
What are some of the most-loved games and activities that parents could replicate at home?
Easy play-at-home games I’d recommend are “Red Light Green Light” and “Freeze!,” which promote understanding, following instructions and motor skills. If you have a ball and goal you can also play favorites such as “Hungry Hippos,” where the kids will hand the coach their ball (or hula hoop!) and the coach will throw the ball into a space. The player runs after the ball, picks it up and runs back to the coach and hands the coach the ball. The coach continues to throw the ball in different directions. There’s also “Relay Race” that can enforce passing the ball to another child, as well as “Alien Tag” where kids are assigned the role of either “alien” or “spaceship,” and they try to keep the balls from hitting the spaceship.
Why is it important that kids get to focus on fun and love of the game rather than competition at these ages?
In some cases, children do not understand competing or maybe they do not enjoy it because their skill does not match their peers. We emphasize having fun and giving it your all so that all kids, whether highly skilled or just beginning, will enjoy themselves.
What are some of the ways in which kids learn to be good teammates — and how will this help them in the future, whether or not they play team sports?
We play drills that require kids to work together and have fun doing it. Some games ensure they work as a team to score a certain amount of balls or relay races where they cheer on their teammates to finish an activity and get back before the opposing team. The fundamental lesson in each of these activities transcends sports and can help children as they grow and mature to cooperate in other aspects of their lives — not just soccer!
Editor’s note: Lil’ Kickers programs are for ages 18 months to 9 years. Sessions run about 13 weeks and are priced at $15 per class. A yearly membership fee of $25 per individual or $40 per family with multiple children also applies. New classes are starting all the time — for more information, visit soccercityokcity.com/lil-