Christopher Nelson scores a goal and then runs to the sideline to celebrate with his mom. A bit unusual for a soccer player to simply leave the field, but this is not an unusual occurrence in a Hobbits scrimmage.
On Saturday morning about 80 4- and 5-year olds took to the soccer field to participate in the Kaw Valley Soccer Association soccer Hobbits program.
"The kids love the activity of kicking around the ball and learning some soccer skills," Kaw Valley President Gerry de Boer said. "They look forward to playing, and it is a great social activity. Kids love to feel like they are part of something important, something big."
The Hobbits program began four years ago under the direction of former board member Kim Richter after parents voiced their opinions about a need for a pre-kindergarten soccer program.
"The program was very successful in its first year, as we had about 70 kids enrolled that year," de Boer said.
The Hobbits program is designed to bring kids and parents together on the soccer field and teach them both about the game.
"Parents are a large part of the success of the program, and the kids like to have parents there with them," de Boer said.
Each Saturday morning, parents bring their kids to Youth Sports Inc. and participate in an hour-long session of soccer activities. The kids enrolled in the fall 2005 session were divided into eight groups of about 10 kids the first day of the season and worked in those groups each week under the instruction of a volunteer coach or group leader.
Gunar Harmon, Hobbits coordinator, said the number of touches each child gets during the course of the hour-long session is important.
"Because these kids are four and five years old, repetition is important," Harmon said. "Learning based on touches in a fun environment is what the Hobbits program tries to achieve."
Harmon said Saturday is maybe the only time they see a ball during the week, so using the same skills over and over again is important to achieve a weekly progression in skill level.
Some of the skills the various groups work on include practicing shots on goal, having many soccer balls in a circle and having the kids trying to kick them all out of the circle as parents defend, running up field as parents defend, and passing the ball between cones to other teammates.
"The sessions provide general physical activity," de Boer said. "After the kids learn dribbling, kicking towards the goal, they have the chance to put that together in a brief scrimmage, which has no rules, except for out of bounds and goals."
There are no referees for the scrimmages, so it is up to the parents and the volunteer coach to make sure that the kids have the opportunity to get a feel for a soccer game.
In between a learning drill and a scrimmage, the kids take water breaks and are also rewarded with snacks.
Parent Jana Wallen didn't know a lot about soccer when her and her husband volunteered to be coaches of their twins Olivia and Andrew's Hobbit group, but she said at this age they are showing them the basics and learning to play as a team.
"The biggest challenge is keeping their attention and just focused on soccer, because they have the tendency to play in net or run around doing cartwheels," Wallen said.
Despite the young children's short attention spans, De Boer said the Hobbits program provides indirect benefits to the Kaw Valley Soccer program.
"Indirect benefits can be seen in parents developing skills and parents learning the game so in the future they might want to join KVSA as refs or coaches," de Boer said. "It is good that parents get to know the game, so when they become fans they encourage children with appropriate language."
In his first year as Hobbits coordinator, Harmon has seen the progression the kids have gone through this fall.
"This is my way to reconnect with what is fun about soccer, and it is fun to see the kids learning the game through their eyes," Harmon said.
Parent Kelly Huls said it is nice to get outside and learn about soccer with her son. Huls said she thinks her son will continue to play recreation soccer because he benefits socially as much as he does learning new soccer skills.
"I had no idea about playing soccer, so it is great that I get to learn alongside my son," Huls said. "He seems to have more patience than I would."
Wallen said she also thinks her twins will want to continue play soccer as they grow.
"They will enjoy playing the game more as they improve their skills," she said after completing the second-to-last Hobbits session of the fall.
Even though some of the hour is spent becoming distracted by butterflies, running into the net or finding comfort on the sidelines, the kids have enjoyed meeting new friends and kicking the ball around.
"By the end of the season the kids are familiar with the activities and scrimmages," Harmon said. "By the end of the season they understand the process and the anxiety is gone. It all really is about having fun."