New program at Nittany Valley Sports Centre aims to introduce kids to soccer at early age

New sport facility seven years in the making now open

Owner of Nittany Valley Sports Centre Michael Lee talks about the newly opened facility that offers a turf field, basketball court, gymnastics training space and more.
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Owner of Nittany Valley Sports Centre Michael Lee talks about the newly opened facility that offers a turf field, basketball court, gymnastics training space and more.

Nittany Valley Sports Centre, a new, indoor sports facility located off Bernel Road in Patton Township, is bringing a cutting-edge children’s sports curriculum to its fall programming.

Lil’ Kickers aims to focus on child development through soccer, for an experience that benefits children far beyond simply learning the basics of a sport. A national program, Lil’ Kickers was created by a child development specialist. The State College program will be the second in Pennsylvania and is open to children 18 months to 9 years of age.

The curriculum, according to Megan Heron, youth programs director at Nittany Valley Sports Centre, is all founded on where children happen to be in their development according to their age.

One unique aspect of the Lil’ Kickers program is how early it starts. Most toddler soccer programs begin around two years of age, says Heron. However, the 18-month stage of child development is crucial and Lil’ Kickers can provide value to parents who want to make sure they make the most of this important time in their child’s life.

“In the 18-months age range (we’re doing) a lot of repetitive things each week, so we’re getting children ready to feel more comfortable around people besides just Mom and Dad ...” Heron said. “(At) 18-24 months, we are gearing our activities toward a toddler’s way of thinking. We’re using parachutes, bubbles, noodles, cones. ... The adult is on the field with them and they’re learning fundamentals like balance and coordination and, then when they get a little older, we’re trying to develop their listening skills, their balance again, their ball skills and their foot-eye coordination.”

She added: “We’re also trying to have them develop the ability to step away from the parent. We have a class where, half the class, your parent is with you and then we slowly migrate that parent off the field, so the child is more comfortable doing things on their own.”

For the older age groups, classes include fundamental soccer skills and non-competitive scrimmages.

The unique program fits well into the center’s overall goals, Heron said.

“Our center is based around sports and community and friends,” she said. “We wanted to bring a program to the sports center that would be great for the community. It is basically opening up a bunch of opportunities for these kids to see people in the community and make friends besides just going to preschool or daycare or something like that ... and we’re trying to bring (those experiences) at the age of starting at 18 months.”

Lil’ Kickers classes run once weekly, with classes available almost daily. Classes run 50 minutes each. Children are split into groups according to age. A Lil’ Kickers season is eight weeks long and the cost is $15 per class. A child’s Lil’ Kickers jersey is included in the cost. Registration opens next week on the Nittany Valley Sports Centre website.

For parents unsure if the Lil’ Kickers program is right for their child, free trial classes are available once the session begins. Trial classes are also available during the center’s open house event, Sept. 28-29.