By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
---- — Once a week, Kristen Kenney and her team of coaches bring their soccer balls to Micro Chips Early Learning Center on Goyer Road to play with the children.
The tiny tots at the daycare may not understand the ins and outs of the game, but they are learning how to use their feet and dribble the ball.
And often they don’t even know they’re learning, Kenney said. They think it’s all fun and games, especially when the cookie monster comes out to play.
The kids love that game.
“The ball is your cookie,” Kenney said. “You have to keep it away from the cookie monster. If the cookie monster gets it, he eats it. You have to say ‘please’ to get it back.”
It’s meant to teach children the pull-back move.
Kenney and her fiance, Kevin Rebholz, own a Soccer Shots franchise in the area. It’s an international program that’s meant to teach kids ages 2 to 8 how to play soccer.
This year, Entrepreneur magazine listed it as the top Children’s Fitness Franchise for the second year in a row and 183rd overall in the Franchise 500. There are now more than 130 franchised and company-run Soccer Shots outlets throughout the United States and Canada teaching 100,000 children every year.
Kenney’s program is growing every day. She travels all around central Indiana. She currently serves more than 750 kids at 35 childcare centers.
“It’s wildly popular, more popular than we thought it would be,” she said.
It’s the only program of its kind in the area, Kenney said. Instructors travel to daycares and schools for one 30-minute session each week where they teach kids soccer principles and character traits. They also teach them about physical fitness.
They try to be sneaky about it, though.
“We don’t do drills,” Kenney said. “We do fun, silly games. We try to make it the best 30 minutes of their week.”
Instructors ask their students to use their imaginations.
They have a game for everything, including one to teach kids how to score a goal. Kids are asked to take down a pirate ship. Their soccer balls become cannon balls, and their legs are cannons. They have to shoot the cannon balls at the goal, which is now a pirate ship.
“What keeps them interested is how fun the games are,” Kenney said.
The program does carry a cost for participants. It’s $11 per session.
Because of the fee, it’s typically an elective program at daycares and at schools. Participation in Central Indiana has been high, though, Kenney said.
Some childcare centers have 50 percent enrollment.
“It gives kids a different way to be physically active,” Kenney said.
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING? Any schools or childcare centers interested in bringing the Soccer Shots program to their children can call co-owner Kristen Kenney at 724-840-6636 or register at soccershots.org/centralindiana. The cost is $11 per session per child.