Football education begins at 18 months

'Play not push' - that is the motto of the first football coaching sessions to target pre-school children in Ipswich.Little Kickers was launched on a national basis in 2002 with the aim of filling a gap in the market of coaching children as young as 18 months all the way up until five years old.

By Stuart Watson

'Play not push' - that is the motto of the first football coaching sessions to target pre-school children in Ipswich.

Little Kickers was launched on a national basis in 2002 with the aim of filling a gap in the market of coaching children as young as 18 months all the way up until five years old.

Based initially in London, the network of informal, yet professionally run training classes soon soared in popularity and franchises began forming all over the country.

Caroline Wales became the 58th person to franchise the project when she set up Little Kickers in Ipswich last September.

With sessions running in Ipswich, Kesgrave and Woodbridge, and a new class starting in Rendlesham this year, Suffolk's Little Kickers has already seen over 140 children in just over three months.

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Wales said: “We've come under criticism in the past because many people feel that pre-school kids are too young to be introduced to football, but I think people who level this accusation do not understand what we do.

“Our classes are non-competitive and non-contact and whilst they do introduce children to the basics of the game, they do so in a fun, relaxed environment.

“Our motto is 'play not push'. We are not pushing these children into becoming the next David Beckham and sometimes we have to remind parents that when they bring their sons or daughters along. Parents can scream and shout on the sidelines, and that does occasionally happen here, but that's not what we are about.

“On a national basis Little Kickers has received requests from scouts from some of the big clubs to attend our classes, but have always refused to allow this, believing that children should be allowed the opportunity to play in a non-competitive environment.

“The whole ethos is that the children are learning valuable concepts. Physically they are learning the basics of agility, balance and co-ordination. Balance is the one you notice the change in the most.

“When they first start many of them can't even put their foot on the ball without falling over, but that soon changes after a few weeks.

“It's more than the physical skills though. The games within the sessions fire their imaginations and teach them skills such as socialisation, following instructions and sharing, as well as things like numbers and the different parts of the body.

“The whole programme has been written by qualified football coaches, while all of our coaches that provide the sessions are at least FA Level One qualified.

“I think you have to be a certain sort of person to work with the very young ones. You have to have a lot of patience because all children under five will have an off day.

“But, although it can be hard, the children are so keen and it can be so rewarding seeing them soaking up everything you tell them.

“We only coach 45 minute sessions because of their concentration spans at that age, but Little Kickers gets them away from the telly and gives them some good basic fitness.

“The children just love it. Speaking to the other parents, and knowing my children I know that they talk about the sessions all week.”

For more information on Little Kickers, please visit: www.littlekickers.co.uk or call: 01473 745800.

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