It’s a tense match as Manchester United battle it out with Liverpool. It’s 2-2, with five minutes to go, but United’s No 10 has a problem – and he’s running to his mum on the touchline for a cuddle. . . It’s not quite what you’d expect from Wayne Rooney, but then this Manchester United team does consist of six year olds. It’s part of Doha’s Evolution Soccer training academy’s mini league, which plays on Saturday mornings. Tommy Westmoreland, the director of Evolution Soccer, explains that the children – boys and girls – all like their teams to be named after a glamorous English Premier League side, so you won’t find Port Vale or Exeter City turning out at Qatar Academy on a Saturday morning.
Evolution Soccer has just started its third year in Doha and has proved hugely popular. It now has around 450 boys and girls on its books from more than 18 different countries – with a big surge of interest from the Indian community recently. They range in age from tiny three-year-olds, who can’t tie their own bootlaces, to strapping teenagers powering down the wing. There’s also a women’s session on Sunday nights, which grew from mums saying, ‘We want to play too!’
The kids attend twice a week. The midweek session is where they train and work on skills, then at the weekends they are let loose to play in Evolution’s mini-league which is divided up by age and ability. ‘On Saturdays coaching is at a bare minimum – we want the children to play and enjoy themselves, with no pressure,’ says Tommy, who also teaches PE at Doha College.
It’s a sign of the success of Evolution (and the dearth of sporting clubs for kids in Doha) that the numbers just keep growing, and they’ve extended the classes all the way down to under-threes. Tommy admits the coaches were a bit nervous about working with such little children, but, with the involvement of parents, it’s been a hit. ‘I’ve never come across a more supportive bunch of parents,’ he says. ‘For the smallest kids, parents actively take part in the sessions, so it’s one to one. We give them the coaching point – say, for shooting, we tell them to get the kids to kick with their laces, not the side of their boot.’
Parents play a big part in the academy and there are plans to give them special training in basic coaching. But they are expected to be on their best behaviour on the touchline and to set a good example by not booing the opposition, arguing with the referee or ‘bigging up’ their kid – even if they think he’s the next Ronaldo.
Mums and dads have also been important in forging links with Evolution’s new official bezzie mate – Al Saad FC. Doha’s highly successful professional team signed a ‘friendship deal’ with Evolution earlier this year. It works well for both sides: Al Saad give free tickets to Evo kids and cheap tickets to parents, gaining hundreds of enthusiastic new fans and the kids get the joy (and sometimes despair) of following a local team. ‘We’ve taken hundreds of kids and parents to Al Saad matches. They were delighted with the turnout – and the kids loved it, a lot of them hadn’t been to a football match at all,’ says Tommy, who thinks the experiment has opened Al Saad’s eyes to the potential of recruiting expat fans.
And earlier in the year, a group of children, parents and coaches had a behind-the-scenes tour of Al Saad’s stadium. ‘The kids loved it, they saw the trophy room, the dressing room and they went into the executive boxes and met the MD and some of the Arab players. When the kids turned up in their kit and with all the parents, I think they realised how serious we are; it’s not just a kick about,’ says Tommy.
Talking of kicking – Evolution has a ‘Lads and Dads’ team in the local expat league, where a group of coaches, dads and under-16 boys get to experience the rough and tumble of real competitive matches, complete with tackles which mean business and a bit of ‘verbals’ ‘They’d never really played in fully competitive matches, it was an eye opener for them. But they were scoring by the end and holding their own,’ Tommy adds.
Getting a good and varied range of opponents in Qatar, is a problem, and Evolution, who played (very successfully) in a Dubai tournament last year, plan to play more games around the Gulf over the next few months. The Evolution quest for world domination continues. . .
For more info, visit www.evolutionsoccer.eu or call Tommy Westmoreland on 506 4794.