23 January 2024

Illawarra Grasshoppers get active, learn skills and make friends with community soccer program

| Zoe Cartwright
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Grasshopper soccer

Grasshopper soccer gets children as young as two out on the pitch – and gives parents a great opportunity to bond with their kids. Damian De Santis, Zali Young, 8, Rob Young, Madden Young, 5 and (front) Sebastian De Santis, 5 are leading the charge. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

Two Wollongong dads are reinvigorating a soccer program for kids as young as two.

Self-confessed football fanatics Damian De Santis and Rob Young decided to kick-off the grassroots Grasshopper soccer program in the Illawarra, after they noticed a need for it in the area.

“Our sons were both students at Grasshoppers a number of years ago,” Rob said.

“We both love soccer – we’ve played and coached for the past 35 years, we watch the EPL and A-League and last year I coached both of our daughters in an all-girls soccer league, and really enjoyed the experience.

“With the groundswell of support and interest post Matildas, we thought it was a pity Grasshoppers were no longer running in the Illawarra so we’ve opened it back up.”

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Grasshopper Soccer teaches young aspiring football stars the basics of playing soccer in a fun, social and non-competitive environment.

It runs year-round, so football fiends can get their fix and work on their skills in the off-season, and less competitive kids can experience the joy of playing without the pressure of club football.

“It’s really about getting kids active,” Damian said.

“Both of us grew up playing soccer and now have kids that love the sport as well.

“Historically participation numbers for soccer in the Illawarra have been really high, and with many more young families calling the region home more and more kids want to get involved in the sport.

“We loved the non-competitive nature of the program that encourages kids to be active and learn some skills in the process in a fun and safe family environment.”

Grasshopper Soccer is a community-based organisation that runs programs Australia-wide, helping equip youngsters with the building blocks to improve their game and character.

If you thought there was a typo earlier, think again – they really do teach kids as young as two soccer skills.

There is, however, a secret ingredient.

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“For the kids aged two to five, we really encourage the parents to run through drills with their little Grasshoppers,” Damian said.

“It’s a good opportunity for parents to get active with their kids, and it certainly helps wrangle the toddlers.

“The kids really enjoy it too.”

Rob and Damian said they had both seen the benefits of soccer for their own kids, and they didn’t stop on the field.

“In a world ruled by tech devices, it’s important more than ever that kids get the opportunity to get outside and be active,” Rob said.

“They’re in the sunshine, in the fresh air, learning how to interact with their peers in a social environment and getting positive reinforcement for their achievements.

“There are a lot of life skills blended in under the banner of a soccer program, and for the kids who start at two and stay until 12, they’re engaging with this for 10 years.

“We’re about the kids, about the community and about fun and inclusion.”

The outdoor program is open to all children from ages two to 12 years and will run across two locations: Figtree High School on Saturday mornings and Morley Park at Warrilla every Sunday morning.

To sign up head to www.grasshoppersoccer.com.au/southcoast

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