Soccer is the number one kids’ team sport in Australia, with almost half of 6 to 13-year-olds actively involved in the beautiful game.
Enter Sydney Lions Soccer Academy, a new soccer development school for children aged 18 months to 16 years. We caught up with Director and head coach Stefano Brocchi to find out what makes soccer such a great sport for kids and steal his secrets for getting toddlers to cooperate!
Hi Stef. How and when did you start Sydney Lions?
Sydney Lions was born in mid-2020, during the lockdown period, however, I personally have been coaching kids’ grassroots soccer since 2011in the UK. During the lockdown period, parents were very keen for their kids to keep exercising and moving. One of the lockdown rules about exercising was that you could do training one-on-one in a park. Quite a few parents were asking me to do one-on-one sessions for their children. That started happening more and more frequently, and as time went on and COVID rules changed, I started putting them into groups. Before I knew it, the Sydney Lions Soccer Academy was born.
And where do you run your classes?
At the moment our classes are in the Pyrmont, Lilyfield and South Eveleigh areas, and we’re in a preschool in the Eastern Suburbs. It’s evolving constantly, and we’re always looking for new areas to expand into. We’ve just taken on our second coach, and the more amazing coaches we have on board, the more we can grow and start opening more classes.
What makes soccer a great sport for kids?
There are so many different aspects. There’s the social side, there’s the technical side, there’s the physical side and there’s the psychological side. A lot of the kids just love hanging out with their mates and staying active while playing with their friends. Others love the game.
We start from 18 months and go all the way through to 16 years old. It’s our job to present soccer to them and to encourage them to fall in love with it, and thankfully many of them do. They love the competition element. They love the physicality, but the social side is also so important. I think all of that combined is what makes young players fall in love with soccer.
What are your secret tactics for getting cooperation from the littlies, and helping them to enjoy the game?
It’s all about having fun! Particularly with the younger ones aged 18 months to five years in our mini academy. There’s no such thing as drills at Sydney Lions. We present a task to them in a fun, sociable manner. We harness their imagination, tap into colours, numbers, the alphabet to get them engaged and involved in what we’re doing. It’s all about fun, making friends and learning to learn in an educational environment.
What do the older children, the five- to sixteen-year-olds, get out of Sydney Lions Academy? Is it for kids who are super keen on soccer and want to go as far as they can, or is it more social?
That’s a good question. Our doors are open to absolutely anyone who wants to come and play soccer. We set it up in such a way that we meet the needs of all types of players. We do have our more sporty, elite players. We group them together so they can work on the technical side of things. But then we have our groups where even if you’ve never kicked a ball in your life, you can come down and just enjoy playing while making new friends. And then there’s also your groups that meet in the middle and have a bit of both.
It’s always interesting when you get someone that’s never played before and they get on the ball and are just naturally gifted. That’s really cool when that happens. But equally, when someone comes and they’re shy, they might even just watch for the first few sessions, but then after four or five weeks, it’s amazing the transformation that they have and they come out of their shell and they play. That’s really awesome.
That must be great to witness. You do birthday parties too. Tell us about what happens at a Sydney Lions birthday party.
They are a lot of fun, they’re very energetic! They’re very different from our regular sessions. In our normal structured sessions, there’s a long term goal in developing the players, but the birthday parties are just about having as much fun as we possibly can in the time we have. We’ll usually do three or four different football-related games. Obviously, what we’re doing with a four-year-old birthday party is very different to what we would be doing with a 13-year-old birthday party, but it’s still all based around having as much fun as possible. We have a trophy and medal presentation at the end and everyone has a great time. The birthday parties are very popular.
They sound like lots of fun. What’s your soccer background?
I’m from West London, my team is Chelsea, and being a Londoner, you don’t have a choice, you’re going to fall in love with football. So, football was always my passion, but I also absolutely love working with people, both kids and adults. I’m a very sociable person. So I am very fortunate to have found an avenue that allows me to be around football and people. I did all my coaching qualifications 10 to 15 years ago. I’ve coached around various clubs and academies building my experience over the years. Eventually, I got to a point where I thought, you know what? I think I can bring all my skills and experience together and do something engaging for kids here.
And the soccer-loving families of Sydney are very glad you did! Thanks for the chat Stef.
You can find out more about the Sydney Lions Soccer Academy at their website.