HappyFeet makes happy soccer kids in Kansas City

HappyFeet

MARCH 2016 – Children often begin playing soccer at a very early age, and organizations like HappyFeet are instrumental in teaching the sport to preschoolers.

HappyFeet and Mini-Kickers began offering soccer programs to 3 to 5-year olds in 1988 in the Kansas City area.

Recently, HappyFeet has also begun to offer a program for special needs children.

“It started last September,” said Lexi Battershell, a first-year occupational therapy student with KU Medical School.  “It’s a partnership between KU Med Center’s Occupational Therapy school and HappyFeet.”

Third-year KU Med Occupational Therapy student Laurie Schmidt, who is also a HappyFeet coach, saw the need and helped bring the program to fruition last fall.

HappyFeet’s programs are designed to provide a learning environment for preschoolers in particular.

“Their program is full of games and song,” Battershell said.  “It’s non-competitive and each child gets their own ball.  (Schmidt) thought it would work perfect for kids with special needs.”

One soccer-trained HappyFeet coach leads the class, with Battershell and other Occupational Therapy students also working with the kids, often in one-on-one instruction.

It is a formula which works especially well for special needs kids.

“It’s a good program because of how engaging it is,” Battershell said.  “The whole program is.  There are constantly songs and games throughout the whole thing and it’s non-competitive.”

Also, being a non-competitive program is important for some special needs children.

“Some kids may have difficulty if they have goals scored against them,” she said.  “This (non-competitive program) eliminates that.”

The classes take place Saturday mornings at the HappyFeet facility near I-35 and 67th Street in Merriam.

“The soccer fields are indoors, so they can go year-round,” Battershell said.  “The classes are at a time when the facility is mostly empty.  That helps keep the environment quieter, so it will reduce possible distractions.”

The classes are small to keep from overwhelming the young children.  Currently the lone 30-minute class, at 1 p.m. Saturday, has five or six kids each week.

“We try to have our classes be very small,” she said.  “We don’t want the classes to get too big.”

It is easy for preschoolers to become sidetracked and inattentive. The HappyFeet program is designed to avoid those issues.

“One thing we’ve heard from parents is that (the children) may get distracted and go off to the side,” Battershell said.  “We want to keep the classes small and keep the children engaged.”

HappyFeet instructors also work to fit the program to the individual child needs.

“We just ask what challenges the kids have,” she said.  “We ask what are their interests and motivators.  We really just use those and the strengths of each child and focus on those.  For example, we have a child who really enjoys songs.  For this past session we’d kneel down and sing some of his favorite songs and he’d be able to focus and be able to dribble. A lot of these things are applicable to any child.”

The program also strives to keep parents involved.

“The parents are the experts,” Battershell said.  “We go to them constantly to get feedback and advice.  They know their own child so well.”

When the program began it, class was on Wednesday mornings, but was later shifted to better accommodate family schedules.

“Since January we’ve been meeting on Saturday and that’s going really well,” she said.

The program will run until May before taking a summer break and resuming in August, which fits with the Occupational Therapy Master’s program schedule at KU Med.  However, because the program has ongoing enrollment, parents can put their kids into the class at any time without having to wait for the next session to begin.

“Parents can stop and start any time,” Battershell said. “Families can attend the first class for free to try out the program, then enroll if it’s something that’s going to work out for the family and kid’s needs.”

Parents interested in learning more about the HappyFeet program email: laurie@happyfeetkc.com

The program is also a particularly good fit for Battershell.

She is the daughter of Heartland Soccer Association executive director Shane Hackett.  Heartland is one of the largest youth soccer organizations in the country and Battershell grew up around soccer.

She played in high school before going to Truman State where she received her undergraduate degree in health science last spring.

“I grew up playing soccer,” she said, explaining she initially discovered the HappyFeet program as a service learning opportunity for her master’s degree program.

“I remember reading about it and I was excited about this first-year program,” Battershell said.  “It took my love for soccer and combined it with my love for working with special needs children.”

Battershell hopes to graduate from the KU Med master’s program in May, 2018.

“There are so many options,” she said of her career opportunities.  “I’m keeping my mind open to a lot of different areas.”

Working directly with special needs children is one option. She is getting excellent hands-on experience while also having fun with soccer working in the HappyFeet program.

The kids are also enjoying the program and learning a bit about soccer, too.  Mostly, the program helps special needs kids connect.

“As occupational therapists, we strive for people to have full participation in all activities in life,” Battershell said.

For more information about Heartland Soccer Association, call 913-888-8768, visit heartlandsoccer.net or write to info@heartlandsoccer.net

Article by Marc Bowman

One Response to HappyFeet makes happy soccer kids in Kansas City

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