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Kids get a shot at soccer

Program offers low-pressure approach to game for a younger crowd

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Joel Newman started the Portland branch of Soccer Shots in 2011.Joel Newman wants to introduce kids to soccer — about 1,100 of them, to start.

He prefers a gentler approach with little competition: Instead of keeping score, he wants young athletes’ first experiences to be pure interest in the sport. By teaching the basics to preschool- and elementary school-aged participants, he hopes they’ll gain a healthy relationship with the sport early on.

Newman is the Portland director of Soccer Shots, a national franchise, which offers year-round classes in preschools and daycare facilities, as well as classes for older kids in local parks. His mission is to give kids a low-pressure crash-course in the game.

“Age 8 is where a lot of soccer programs begin,” Newman said. “We specialize in working with young kids. We specialize in helping kids who have never played before get into the sport. It can be intimidating when you are joining a league where kids may already know the rules or have played before.”

Soccer Shots is a bit different from other youth sports organizations, Newman said. “We have some amazing programs in this city for kids, but they may span 4- to 8-year-olds or try to teach football or track, too. Those are fine, but there is something to specialization and obsessing about one thing.” 

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Chandler Smith, 3, sporting a Portland Timbers jersey he wears often, high-fives his coach, Leslie Christian, during a Soccer Shots session at Bonita Park in Tigard. Soccer Shots is an organization that teaches kids how to play soccer in noncompetitive games.Currently, his branch holds meet-up-style soccer clinics in 25 public parks throughout the Portland metro area, including three in Tigard.

“The folks that live near Cook Park won’t have to drive all the way to Summerlake Park, they can go to the one that’s right in their neighborhood, and that makes each one a little bit different and special,” Newman said.

Soccer Shots is growing fast. Newman said attendance rates are double what they were last summer.

“We’re just dipping our toe into Tigard,” he said, adding that Soccer Shots plans to expand classes and week-long camps into Tualatin, Sherwood and Wilsonville.

Whichever location a family chooses, one value remains the same, he added. “Fun is an essential part of our strategy. The more we have fun out there, the more they want to engage with us.” 

In keeping with the 15-year-old company’s general philosophy, Newman and his staff of 25, which includes professional coaches, are trying to make this low-pressure approach to the sport as accessible as possible for participants, allowing members of the public to register online and then show up to play at the park.

“We try to make it convenient for families with a bunch of locations instead of just one,” he said. “There are a lot of families that like to walk or ride a bike to the park, and it’s nice to be in parks just playing in the grass. A lot of times we are nearer the playground rather than soccer field.” 

Before dedicating himself to soccer, Newman, 37, worked as a business consultant with the Australian government, helping Australian businesses break into the American market. He was a consultant for nine years. During that time, he said, “I was a recreational (soccer) player, nothing professional. In that sense, that’s the vibe of our program, too.”

When he was ready for a career and life change, he decided to “get out of the business world and put on a pair of shorts.” Coaching children and building a supportive sports community has proven a far cry from working for the Australian government, but Newman enjoys seeing the direct impact his business has on local families.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Beckett Kapp, 5, scores a goal for his team during a Soccer Shots session at Bonita Park in Tigard. Soccer Shots is an organization that teaches kids how to play soccer in noncompetitive games.It has also been rewarding encouraging a new generation to simply enjoy what he considers one of his own favorite pastimes.

“I play soccer for fun and for recreation,” he added. “We’re not developing them for the national team, we are getting them interested in it as a lifelong passion.”

And learning soccer at a young age can prove the beginning of a beautiful friendship, in a sense. After all, Portland has a passionate soccer community supporting teams like the Portland Timbers and the Thorns. “You can go anywhere and play pickup games, it’s a great way to engage and meet people,” Newman said. “You can work out your stress and have some fun.”

In any case, Newman said getting the fundamentals of the game will help kids later in life. “Whether they go on to ballet or baseball or science, the experience benefits them,” he explained. “They learn about teamwork, working well with others, and they’ll be able to listen to coaches and others giving advice.”

For more information about Soccer Shots, and to find classes, visit soccershots.org/pdx/.

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