A group of elementary school-aged kids run the length of the mini soccer field. The ball moves toward the goal, thanks to one part skill and two parts luck. One child falls, bringing another two with him, allowing a fourth to break away from the dog pile and score. The “referee,” after helping kids stand back up and making sure they’re not injured, congrats the lucky player, but mentions she scored on her own goal. But she’s not embarrassed — in fact, she’s already sprinting toward the ball the ref tossed back into the middle of the field, closely tailgated by her fellow athletes.
From an outside perspective, it could look like chaos. But to Mount Rainier Futbol Club Director Jimmy Reynolds, this is exactly how kids should be learning not just soccer, but life skills they’ll use the rest of their lives.
It’s called the Futures Academy, a twice-weekly program for kids ages 4 to 7.
The program started last May, and MRFC’s goal was to bring 300 kids into the program by the end of the first year.
But the group has already surpassed their expectations, even though the year isn’t even halfway over.
“It’s really taking off,” Reynolds said, noting many kids are eager to return.
The program started, according to Reynolds and Mike Avery, MRFC’s vice president of recreation, because there is a small number of professionally organized sports programs for kids, not just on the Plateau but in surrounding cities as well.
We didn’t want “just a couple volunteers showing up” and teach soccer, Avery said. “Let’s get some committed coaches, some curriculum, and let’s run it all year long in a true academy.”
Academy may be the right word to describe the program — it’s less about playing an organized sport, and more about learning it.
“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to take six-year-old kids and put them on a soccer team and go out and be competitive,” Avery said. “We’re teaching the basic fundamentals… and the social aspect of it.”
The coaches for the program, many of which are certified for beginning skirmishes to national licenses, teach kids a new technique every week and allow time for kids to scrimmage on the field, Avery said. But they also learn how to interact with peers of various ages and skills in a less controlled setting.
“For most of these kids, it’s their first social interaction, not only with a coach but with other kids,” Reynolds added. “You’ve get some of those four year olds out here that have never shared a toy in their life, and now they’re out here with a soccer ball… we’re here to guide them through this.”
And when kids age out of the Futures Academy, they can enroll straight into MRFC’s recreational or premier soccer programs, and maybe even become Future Academy coaches themselves in the future.
“It’s all about giving back,” Reynolds said.
Future Academy lessons are grouped together into blocks; one block is six weeks long. In Bonney Lake, MRFC staff run two blocks, one right after the other, with lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Over in Auburn, there is currently one block with lessons on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Lessons are 45 minutes long, with locations varying depending on the block. The cost is $70 per block, which includes a T-shirt for athletes.
Every third Saturday in the block, athletes attend a Jamboree, allowing kids to experience what it’s like to play on a team in a round-robin tournament, and giving their families an opportunity to come together as a community to celebrate their children.
“Our biggest drive is the community,” Reynolds said. “We’re working with the community to make this program something special.”