WORD OF MOUTH: Sporty Kids

TEACH YOUR CHILDREN: Head coach of Sporty Kids John Mortimer leading his troops at Empire Park, Bar Beach.  PICTURE: JONATHAN CARROLL
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN: Head coach of Sporty Kids John Mortimer leading his troops at Empire Park, Bar Beach. PICTURE: JONATHAN CARROLL

John Mortimer is a brave man.

He willingly gave up his job of 20 years to work with children. Children aged three to six, to be exact.

As any parent, guardian, teacher or grandparent will tell you, convincing a child that age to stand still and listen to you, let alone follow instructions and concentrate, can be a challenge. But it’s a challenge Mortimer has, in the eyes of at least one mother, conquered.

His Sporty Kids program is designed specifically for preschool-aged children. The emphasis is on fun, fresh air and physical activity rather than competition and regular training.

It also gives parents a breather – their children can run around for 45 minutes, wear themselves out and hopefully have a nice (not so little) afternoon nap.

Mortimer, a former shift worker, says the trick to working with kids is to be on their level, and to put the emphasis on fun.

He started Sporty Kids 2 years ago and each week teaches about 140 children how to be a good sport. He runs clinics at Bar Beach, Wallsend, Hamilton North and Adamstown.

In addition to teaching basic soccer skills he offers another class which develops children’s motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, group interaction and confidence. Working their way around a circuit, they learn how to hit, kick, catch, throw, pass and shoot a ball, how to step, run and jump, and how to score points in a non-competitive environment.

Word of mouth from friends prompted Mayfield East mother-of-two Deidre Cornes to give Sporty Kids a go.

Her children, Keita and Tama, are two years apart in age and had already attempted – and turned their noses up – at other sports.

‘‘We tried gymnastics and karate and suddenly the kids were being graded and expected to train several times a week,’’ Cornes says.

‘‘It’s all very goal-oriented. But with Sporty Kids, it’s about social skills and life skills without the kids really recognising that that’s happening.’’

Her son Tama, 4, attends the soccer program at Bar Beach one day a week. His big sister is not impressed that she can no longer attend, having started school this year.

‘‘I was talking to one of my friends about Sporty Kids last week, and that’s what prompted me to write in,’’ Cornes says.

‘‘We both said we couldn’t believe how much our two boys had changed since they had started.

‘‘John teaches them three basic foot skills in soccer, they follow instructions and they’re away. They’re playing soccer without even knowing they are doing it.

‘‘And when he’s teaching them how to run with the ball, they’re told it’s no big drama if you get the ball taken off you.

‘‘They learn to deal with that, rather than it being the be-all and end-all of the sporting experience.’’

Mortimer says kicking the soccer ball around with his son in the backyard, and putting himself on his son’s level, gave him a valuable insight into how kids tick.

But it was the death of his father (also a shift worker) that prompted him to look closely at his life and how he wanted to live his days.

‘‘After 20 years of shift work I wanted to head in a new direction. I wasn’t happy and I wanted to do something that meant something to me,’’ he says.

‘‘So I came up with the Sporty Kids concept and it’s been the greatest decision I’ve ever made. It’s tough, but it’s rewarding.’’

He chose three- to six-year-olds as the target market for his business because older children were ‘‘already in school or have their chosen sports’’.

‘‘When you start working with kids at age three, what they can learn is just amazing,’’ Mortimer says.

‘‘But you’ve got to make it fun. If it’s not fun they don’t want to be there.’’