Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Taking a swing at success in sports

Jeff Benson

A line of cameras followed their every move and the four young boys

took turns booting the ball with all the spunk they could muster. The

hapless goaltender fell victim to every single goal-scoring shot.


Parents were invited to see their children’s progress Monday at

the last session of the “Successful Little Athlete” team soccer and

T-ball class, operated through Newport Beach Recreation Services

inside the Bonita Creek Community Center. The moms and dads weren’t


allowed to watch any of the weekly classes since July 12, when the

kids started, so nearly everyone showed up with camcorder in hand for

the final day.

Students ages 3 to 5 impressed their parents by hopping backward

on one foot, traversing a balance beam, tumbling in somersaults and

fielding ground balls -- skills they worked on during each day of the

eight-week class. Coach, child counselor and sports psychologist

Marti Gangnes said the exercises were specifically targeted to


improve confidence, self-esteem and team building.

The results impressed the athletes themselves almost as much as

their parents.

After Gangnes challenged the kids to run up and kick the soccer

ball past her for a goal -- a task they each easily achieved -- she

spaced them out and made the group accountable for keeping the ball

in play, stopping her shots.

“I’m happy that I kept my coach out of the goal,” said Solomon


Sonenshine, 4. “It was fun. But I didn’t like when I fell down.”

Solomon’s mother, Allyson Sonenshine, said the class has given her

son the confidence to participate with others and to try new things

on his own.

“I think it’s been very helpful in terms of being able to follow

instructions,” she said. “I haven’t seen him use his glove to catch a

ball until today.”

Gangnes said the key to teaching children sports at such young

ages is to keep them in small groups, to break physical skills into

achievable pieces and to reinforce their hopeful expectations.

“This prepares them to enjoy sports because they’ve experienced

success, and they aren’t afraid to make mistakes,” she said. “If

you’re comfortable with sports, and you enjoy them, you can use them

for confidence enhancement for your whole life.”

With T-ball, she wanted them to use an even higher thought process

-- to think about stepping on the base before throwing the ball back

to her. And each time they participated, whether they understood the

fundamentals, they were encouraged with applause.

“With early expectations and positive reinforcement, it becomes

easier for them to absorb that through their systems as they grow

up,” Gangnes said.

Soccer and T-ball combo classes for ages 3 to 6 will resume Sept.

21 at Bonita Creek Community Center and Eastbluff Boys and Girls