Three-year-old Grayson Sidel had decided he wasn't interested in playing soccer on this particular day.
Then, Richard Richards announced that the group was set to play "Cookie Monster."
Suddenly, Grayson jumped up from the bench and attempted to steal the ball away from Richards, as the game's rules suggest.
The game was part of the structured curriculum of Soccer Shots, a national program started locally by Andrew Hammer in April. Richards runs the program for the local franchise and acts as its primary instructor.
The program is designed for boys and girls ages 3-8, and Hammer and Richards market it to day care centers, preschools, homeowners' associations and recreation departments.
The idea, Richards said, is for children to learn soccer fundamentals at an early age, while getting exercise and, most importantly, having fun.
"If they've got the basic skills at 3, 4 and 5 years old, when they get into (recreation) leagues, they're going to be more advanced," Richards said. "That rec coach isn't going to have to turn around and teach them those skills."
Participants take part in group lessons that last 30 to 45 minutes. The cost varies, Richards said, anywhere between $65 and $85 per child for eight- to 12-week sessions.
The curriculum features a wide variety of lesson ideas. That's essential, Richards noted, because it helps keep the children engaged.
"I can do a different class every week for four seasons without repeating," he said. "And it's fun."
The local program started in Columbia County, but Richards said he has plans to branch out into other local areas, such as Augusta and North Augusta.
Selling something considered an "extra," or non-essential, though, is tough when many families are cutting down on expenses, Richards said. He offers free demonstrations to show parents not only how much fun children have while participating, but also how much they learn.
Hammer said he met the founders of Soccer Shots at a National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention.
Looking back on his experiences in the sport, he said, he was instantly hooked at the idea of getting children involved at such a young age.
"I've been involved with soccer in the community for a long time," Hammer said. "It always seems like the kids that really never see any benefit of real coaching or real soccer are the little kids.
"One of the things this program does is brings real soccer skills and technical skills at a young age, but does it in a really, really fun way."
Hammer said Richards was a natural choice to run the program. The two have known each other for more than a decade through coaching and refereeing.
"Richard's passionate about the game," Hammer said. "He loves working with kids. And I think that's what it's going to take to make this program successful."
For information, contact Richards at (706) 504-2282 or email@example.com.
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