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All the Fun of Soccer, Mini-Sized

Knight Park hummed with pint-sized activity Wed. night, as the Collingswood rec league held its first open practice of the season for 5 year olds.

Athleticism runs in 5-year-old Tayvion Warren’s family. His mom, Ebony Bailey, still holds the records in the 100- and 200-meter dash—marks she set nine years ago.

But right now, Bailey mostly runs to keep up with her son, who’s got a high gear she can’t always equal.

“He’s a sports person,” she says. “Any sport you put him in, he wants to get out and try new things.”

That’s why she signed Tayvion up for the “mini” youth soccer program at the Collingswood recreational league, which held its first meeting of the season Wednesday night in Knight Park.

Along with 59 of his peers, Warren practiced dribbling a soccer ball up and down the shortened field, running stop-and-go drills and generally grinning from ear to ear.

“I can’t get him to listen, he’s so excited,” Bailey said as Warren zipped into view, dribbling hard alongside his older cousin, Tyjee Kellem.

For kids with boundless energy, there’s nothing better than a big grassy field to run around on, says Jim Bridgeford, who heads up the mini soccer league.

“Youth sports are the biggest leagues in the country,” Bridgeford said. “For kids, there’s nothing better.”

The mini soccer league is the first exposure to organized sports for many children, he said. That also means, in many cases, that it’s their parents’ first exposure to organized sports—and Bridgeford aims to make it a positive one.

In the mini division, everything is scaled down to the players’ abilities (and attention spans). The eight teams in the league are co-ed. Children play five-on-five soccer on a shortened field. Even the $20 per-player buy-in is smaller.

For that pittance, kids get two T-shirts, about three months’ worth of outdoor exercise, skilled coaching and a chance to meet their neighbors from throughout the borough.

“It’s a big community and we need involvement from everybody,” said coach Stephen Leek. “Everyone gets a chance to play.”

Leek, who works with the 8- and 9-year-old groups, was on hand to help run drills at the massive inaugural practice. He said part of the reason soccer is the perfect introductory sport for children is because it is so inclusive.

“It’s a family-oriented sport,” Leek said. “The whole family can be involved.

“What’s important is that they have fun,” Bridgeford said.

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