Soccer is huge in Chilliwack as hundreds of kids take to the field every week for practice drills and games.
But at those outings many soccer participants leave their jealous toddler siblings on the sidelines to watch.
Little Kickers is a new program in Chilliwack that gets the youngest of kids involved in a sport at its most basic level.
And with sport, healthy eating, language acquisition, the earlier the better.
"These are really small children at a really early age," said Little Kickers Fraser Valley franchise owner Ryan Baker. "Hopefully, if this experience is a really positive and fun one they will want to play sports. We're doing our part to help children be fit and have fun."
With a philosophy of "Play not Push," Little Kickers fills a gap in organized sports for preschool kids.
The program was developed in 2002 in England in response to the demand from the founder's two-year-old son. Guided by English Football Association coaches, nursery school teachers, child health specialists and parents, Little Kickers is a constantly evolving program that has grown to 20,000 participants worldwide in Ontario, B.C., the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Cyprus and Ecuador.
Baker owns the local franchise with his wife Michelle, but he started as director of coaching for Little Kickers in the U.K. before moving to Ontario to run the master franchise for Little Kickers Canada.
The couple came to B.C. to launch the local chapter in February 2012.
Baker said the way soccer is taught to school-aged children isn't the way it should be introduced to toddlers. The concept of one ball on the field with two-, three-and four-year-olds trying to score on one another just doesn't work.
"That isn't a really a good way to build the confidence of someone new to the game," he said.
A traditional soccer game means limited touches on the ball, and very young children have a hard time comprehending the concept of passing.
"There should be 18 balls in a bag for a class of 16 kids," he said.
In the program the littlest athletes-Little Kicks-take part in a full-parent participation class for those 18 months to 27 months. Then there is Junior Kickers for kids two to three-and-a-half, Mighty Kickers for those up to aged five, and Mega Kickers for five-and six-year-olds.
The program teaches little ones valuable concepts such as sharing, taking turns and listening. Skill and agility are also fostered with a series of exercises and drills that are fun for the kids.
Around Halloween one drill featured a coach acting as a monster they had to run past. Before Christmas the balls were presents they helped Santa deliver.
It's all about having fun, interacting and playing, all while learning the fundamentals of soccer.
"Children tend to burn out if they are pushed in the wrong way," Baker said.
To find out more about Little Kickers visit www.littlekickers.ca.