Monday, August 26, 2013

Lil' Strikers Soccer for Kids Brings Fun to Learning the Beautiful Game

September brings not only back-to-school, but also back-to-extracurriculars. There's much debate about how many activities and how many hours we should schedule our kids, but I think most everyone agrees that extracurricular activities, when done right, provide many benefits - socially, physically, intellectually. The key is finding an activity your child enjoys, at a time and location that works for the overall family schedule.

For us, swimming lessons have always been an absolute must, as we believe knowing how to swim is a life skill. But beyond that, the boys have been able to choose their own activities. This past spring, Little Boo started asking about soccer. He'd been playing at school, and he wanted to get more involved with the sport over the summer. We registered him in an outdoor league, and he has really enjoyed the exercise and team spirit. Looking at the fall, he'd like to continue, so we're looking for an indoor league. What we found? Lil'Strikers Soccer for Kids.

It was like they read my mind actually, as I received an invitation to their open house just as I was starting my research. Little Boo and I went for a visit to check out their program and their location.

The Program

Lil' Strikers was founded in Seattle, WA, in 1999. Today, it's an international franchise with over 100 locations across the US, and now in Canada as well. The program welcomes children from age 18 months - 9 years, and has a special focus on child development. They describe themselves as a development program first, and a soccer program second. Because of this, the kids not only learn age-appropriate soccer skills, they also learn basic skills they need to be successful both on and off the field. 
"From Bunnies to Micro Advanced, Lil' Strikers classes are there to help your child achieve the developmental milestones that are an integral part of their personal growth. Lil' Strikers builds strong fundamental physical skills, teaches teamwork and cooperation, and inspires confidence - all in an atmosphere where kids are successful and learning is fun."
Now, Little Boo is not the most athletically-inclined kid you could meet, and his gross motor skills have always been an area of some delay. When we went for the open house, he mostly had a really good time, but he did get frustrated with himself when he couldn't keep control of the ball in some of the drills. The coach was excellent and supportive. He encouraged LB and told him he was doing "awesome," while at the same time providing instruction and tips to improve his skills. There was a great balance of correction and praise, which got LB right back into the game. The coaches all receive training and are paid employees of the program, so standards are high. This was such a contrast to the experience we had with volunteer coaching and minimal training in our summer program. The supportive and patient environment we saw at Lil' Strikers, I believe, promotes engagement and a desire to learn.

Lil' Strikers soccer is non-competitive, so the focus isn't on winning the game, but on skill development and physical activity. Kids can enjoy the game of soccer and the interactions with their peers without the pressure to take home the gold. Each 50-minute class includes a variety of fun, high energy activities and drills geared towards the participants' age and developmental stage. LB's class will be Micro 6/7, which includes 15-20 minutes of instruction followed by 20-25 minutes of non-competitive game play. What a fun way to get some exercise!

The Location

Lil' Strikers GTA has two locations in Toronto - Soccer World at Polson Pier, and Monarch Park at Coxwell and Danforth (opening in November). We visited the Polson Pier location, where the kids play in a huge 50,000 square foot dome. There are change rooms, showers and lockers on site. The dome was great, and the playing surface clean and well-maintained. One word of caution though - the dome is pretty deep within Polson Pier, so you can't see it from the road. Also, there is no signage on the road for Lil' Strikers (not yet anyway), so I was a little confused trying to find it. The street address is 176 Cherry Street, and that address is well-signed, so you can trust in that. The dome is next to the Cabana Pool Bar, behind the beach volleyball courts and the golf. 

More Info

Classes begin at Polson Pier on Sept 5 (Thursday morning preschool classes, Friday evenings, Saturday mornings), and at Monarch Park on Nov. 7 (Thursday evenings) and run for 12 weeks. You can download the schedule and read the descriptions of the different age divisions online. Registration is also online. 

And you can connect with Lil' Strikers GTA on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

Disclosure: I have received a complimentary 12-week soccer program for my child as a thank you for sharing my impressions of the Lil' Strikers Soccer for Kids program. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.

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