Fifty Houston children under four years old played in a soccer league this past spring.
The All Nations Soccer League started last year in Houston, hosted by the Houston Dze L Kant Friendship Centre, who partners with the Silverthorne Elementary School to use their soccer field.
This year, the League added an under four (U4) soccer program, and 50 kids came out to play.
A U4 informational sheet says the goal of U4 soccer is having fun and planting seeds for the future so that kids think things like “I can play soccer,” or “I like sports.”
It’s centred around school readiness skills, teaching sportsmanship, coordination and body awareness, said Langham.
She adds that they also learn about colours, numbers, lining up, and taking simple instructions from an adult other than their parents.
The U4 team program ran in Jamie Baxter Park, in the grassy area between the Seniors Centre and the Health Centre.
“It’s really cute, because the seniors that were part of the day program there, would come and bring their chairs and line up in the parking lot and watch the kids play,” said Langham.
She says kids play soccer for the experience, so that is what they focus their all their soccer programs on.
“It’s great to score a goal but at the end of it our thing is, ‘Did you try your best? Did you have fun? Did you interact with your friends?'”
Darren MacDonald, head coach for the All Nations Soccer League, says his work with the kids is primarily based on skill development, and with the younger players it’s really laid back.
MacDonald says that in the studies he’s read, he’s found that kids join sports for friends first, fun second, and healthy activities third.
He says that two five year olds holding hands on the field instead of playing soccer is a success, because the kids are there to make friends.
“The emphasis is fun, friends, and then soccer,” said Langham.
“At the end of the day, if a kid came and associated soccer with having fun, than we win,” she said, adding that it builds a foundation for the future, so that kids will be able to claim soccer as part of their identity.
“I see so many kids that it makes a massive difference for,” said MacDonald.
“Even someone yelling at them ‘good job,’ is something maybe they haven’t heard tons, and it makes a really big difference.”
But MacDonald says that even though the emphasis wasn’t on soccer, he and the spectators were shocked by the skill development of the U4 players.
“Those kids are playing soccer at age three and four!” he said.
They did a lot better than expected and had huge skill development, Langham said, adding that she thinks it’s because of the focus on fun.
“Yes it’s soccer, it’s dressed up, it’s packaged as soccer, and the kids are learning really high-level, high-quality soccer skills. But at the end of the day what they’re going to take from it… is that sense of belonging, that experience of teams, supportive community connections, and all of those other really great things that come as a benefit of sports done in an inclusive fashion,” Langham said.
“Soccer is a vehicle for so much more,” she said.