Little ones get their 'Shots'
In the midst of all the giggles, high fives and kicks, Soccer Shots toddlers are actually learning skills they'll keep with them for years to come.
The program, which came to Woodbury about two years ago, is run by Dan Larson who partners with area preschools and day care centers to teach kids the sport in fun, imaginative and creative ways.
Larson, a New Richmond, Wis., resident, has been playing and coaching soccer for years and decided to become a Soccer Shots franchisee, creating his ideal job.
"It was just a perfect combination of my skills and passion," the 29-year-old said. "It really is working out to be my dream job."
Soccer Shots offers three different disciplines tailored to each age group.
During the school year the program mostly attracts 2- to 5-year-olds and during the summer, it's the 6- to 8-year-olds who tend to participate once they're done with school.
Larson started with six partnerships that grew to 55 schools across the metro area, which include Woodbury Preschool Programs on Steepleview, St. Ambrose, Woodbury Lutheran and Primrose School of Woodbury.
Basic soccer skills like dribbling, controlling the ball with one foot and kicking are taught by the coaches. But it's not just about the physical aspects of the game.
"Skills by themselves are kind of dry for kids this age," Larson said, adding they usually develop character as they become part of a team that practices sharing and respect for one another.
"They're learning skills while they're playing the game. But they're not really realizing (it)."
Soccer Shots was founded by two soccer players who met while playing the sport in college and professionally.
"It's been a sport that has great opportunities," said Justin Bredeman, vice president of franchise. "We're pretty old now -- we're almost 40. We don't get to play a whole lot. We're still very appreciative of what the game has afforded us."
Soccer is a gender-neutral sport and a stepping-stone to a number of other activities that children are likely to participate in when they get older, he said.
"When they walk they can kick a soccer ball," Bredeman said. "It's not the case for other sports."
There's also little equipment needed and the kids can play on various surfaces.
On a Tuesday afternoon at Primrose School of Woodbury, a dozen children headed outside donning their oversized, orange Soccer Shots T-shirts, and got ready to spend 30 minutes learning about soccer.
They ran around a tiny field as they implemented some imaginative play before taking turns to kick the soccer ball.
Larson said it's rewarding to watch their skills take off and confidence grow day by day as they give it all they've got.
"It really is amazing," he said. "If we can develop some professional soccer players out of this, that's great."