My wife and I have run Matamata Swifts AFC’s Mini-Kickers programme for a few years now. We got involved when Nathan, our eldest, wanted/was forced to start playing football and we’ve been doing it ever since.
Nathan is now a 9th Grade player, for the Swifts Eagles team I also coach, while Theo, our second son, is now in his final year of Mini-Kickers (what is also known as 7th Grade). Just when Jean thinks she’s about to come out the other end, however, we’ll soon have Siena joining up. So we’ll be there for a few years yet.
I started, from memory, in 2011 when I was still managing the club’s 1st team in the NRFL. God, some of those Saturday’s were long. I’d be at the club setting up from just after 8am, into Mini-Kickers, clearing the gear and home for a quick shower, then behind the steering wheel of the Bongo to get our players to Glenfield or Ellerslie or some other horrible place in Auckland where we got beaten. Then home for all the media stuff and into bed at some time that doesn’t even truly exist.
But I stuck at it for the kids. And yes, because I enjoy watching them learn the game and, for some, even start to love it.
The rain; the cold; the frost; sometimes even the sun never stopped us. I guess it’s what we do on a Saturday morning during winter. My routine…and I love a good routine.
We’ve been using NZ Football’s Junior Framework drills right from the off. Most of the parents got it from the start, but we have had a bit of explaining to do from time to time. Not every parent in rural New Zealand understands why we sometimes ask the kids to pretend to be animals and move the ball around a small rectangle marked off with bright orange cones…
At times we’ve battled for coaching assistance. Parents will have an opinion but often, I’ve found, they’d much rather sup on a hot coffee and watch than get involved. Actually, come to think of it, maybe they’re the smart ones…
I’ve altered the format from season to season as the numbers and enthusiasm dictated. I’ve learnt what works and I’ve definitely learnt what didn’t. Always, always, include a good balance of actual games so the players – and, yes, their parents – know what the other exercises are designed to work towards.
In 2016 we have a good group, in terms of the general ability levels, numbers and enthusiasm. From this year’s 6th and 7th grade kids we should have three to four good 8th Grade sides in 2017, including a girls only team. For a small club like Matamata that’s a good bubble of players to bring through to populate our junior sides for years to come.
In a club the size of ours, players come through in waves. The last big wave, particularly in terms of quality, is at the 13th Grade level. They’ve allowed us to field an under-13 side in WaiBOP Federation-wide U-13 league. We do have good players sprinkled throughout our other sides, but we struggle for depth. That’s what this next wave looks like bringing for us.
We’ve made a conscious effort this year to ensure these kids are inspired. Their rego fee was brought right back, to $20, and all the Mini-Kickers kids get a ball to keep and bring along every week. We compete against the local rugby and netball clubs for players and, unfortunately, those sports seem to have minimal playing fees. Often parents will take their kids to the sport that costs the least.
So that’s what we’re up against. But this year, we’re fighting back. I’ve received anecdotal feedback that our Mini-Kickers programme is streets ahead of what’s on offer up at Bedford Park, which is nice. What I see each week, however, is far more concrete. The kids keep coming back.
Often, in the past, when the weather’s got wet or colt we start losing numbers. Sometimes quite dramatically. The kids become ambivalent. Often the parents probably persuaded the kids to stay home so they didn’t have to get out of their warm beds.
Not this year, though.
Even this morning, when we had a grey start to the day and everyone just knew they were going to get wet, the numbers were there. Hell, even I was a bit surprised. And I loved it. And I know the kids did.
We have a couple more weeks before we break for the holidays. I guess that will be the next big test. When people get out of the routine how easily will they get back into it? I’m hopeful this year, but I really don’t know. Regardless, though, I’m proud of what we’ve done with Mini-Kickers this year. I’m proud of the work Jean does to make each session run smoothly, particularly when I’m in Hamilton with the Eagles. And I’m so excited watching the kids learning and loving the game.
There’s nowhere else I’d rather be on a Saturday morning.
(To top the day off, the Eagles beat the Tamahere Hunters, a side that beat us a month ago, 2-1 in a performance that showed how far we’ve come this season. And the Swifts beat Papamoa 5-1. A pretty decent day, to be fair. Even with the weather.)