Toddlers on the ball!
Vinzie Zuill believes you're never too young for football.
She bought one for her 20-month-old son, Desani, when he was still in the womb.
“I was back on the football pitch five days after he was born,” said the 33-year-old. “As soon as I came out of the hospital I was there.”
The sport has been a way of life since she was a youngster, playing with children in the neighbourhood.
As a teenager she joined Wolves.
“I attended Saint Francis University in Joliet, Illinois,” she said. “I played division one football however I was scouted by the school while playing in a futsal tournament.”
She returned to Bermuda in 2011 and started Footy Promotions, a company that organised football-themed events. A futsal clinic for young people was one of the first activities.
Based on that success, she set up the Footy Force Futsal Academy for ages 7-16, in 2012.
About a year ago she and Eurique Wilkin set up Footy Tots, a futsal skills programme for toddlers, after noticing some of the older children were struggling with basic game skills.
“You see decisions being made two seconds too late,” said Ms Zuill. “Their passing isn't as accurate. They might struggle with their foot movement. If you start them playing football earlier it just becomes natural.
“We had one player who started at a young age and he has now gone to the UK to join a club. We had a clinic and the instructor picked him out one time, brought him to the front to do some drills, to show the technique.”
Added Mr Wilkin: “Getting them to do things at the right age is critical. Footy Tots is our solution to helping that.”
Futsal is similar to football, but played with smaller teams so players get more contact with the ball. Eight coaches play fun games with the 30 children registered this year; they've been split into two teams to learn how to pass, kick and throw.
“At this stage the children are not very competitive,” said Ms Zuill. “They usually just want to complete a task. The children feed off our energy. At the end of a couple of 45-minute sessions with them, we're busted.”
Teaching children between the ages of three and six does have its difficulties. Activities need to change rapidly to accommodate their notoriously short attention spans.
“We do have some that will wander off to the other end of the pitch to play with the football by themselves,” said Mr Wilkin. “At this age we just let it happen. Parents or guardians have to be on hand to supervise when it does. We noticed by the end of eight weeks, they are more goal-oriented and more focused on the drill.”
The couple met when Mr Wilkin signed up his 11-year-old nephew, Diego Richardson, for Footy Force.
The certified coach and Devonshire Colts player is now technical director of Footy Tots. He's looking forward to the day when his one-year-old son Enrique, can join.
“He doesn't have any choice about loving football,” said Mr Wilkin. “We come from a football family. My father, Joseph ‘Flack' Wilkin, and myself played with Devonshire Colts.
“I started playing at three and still play. Me and Vinzie just launched a Corona League team called the Footy Kings. I play on that and we both help to coach. Football has always been a part of my life.”
They are now on their third term of Footy Tots.
“We had a waiting list to get in so we have now offered a second session and that's almost full,” said Ms Zuill.
•Footy Tots runs every Saturday from 10am to 12pm at the Bermuda College. See footypromo.com or e-mail email@example.com