Matt Ney is the founder and president of GOL. Matt established GOL to provide young children the opportunity to engage in various fitness activities with an emphasis on movement and fun. Matt is a graduate of Gonzaga High School in DC and was a four-time All Patriot League Selection at Division 1 Holy Cross College in men's soccer. flyburst sat down with Matt to learn more about GOL's innovative program which combines sports-specific training, fitness, yoga, music, and fun.
fb: What sport or fitness activity do you focus on?
MN: We run 3 main programs, soccer, yoga, and music & action.
fb: What’s the ages of the kids your program currently serves?
MN: We run these programs for kids 2 1/2 -12 years old in age appropriate groupings.
fb: Your program seems to emphasize fun and fitness over sport-specific training at a young age. Can you further explain this approach?
MN: When you talk about getting a child involved in any activity, their first experience has to be a memorable one. Making the programs fun and allowing the kids to get fit in the process, should be the focus at the earliest ages. If the kids leave a program, let’s say soccer, and run to their parents and say, mom, that was so much fun, then they will begin to associate fun with soccer, and that program has done its job. As they get older, if they decide to stay in the sport, then that love was established, and the child is much more likely to stay with it when the training gets harder and competition level increases.
fb: Why should parents like this approach?
MN: No child is going to get a professional contract anytime between the ages of 3-5, be it in dance, soccer, or any other sport, so our job is to create an environment where fitness is fun. A child will learn is that working hard and getting a good workout is fun. With parents’ help, because kids emulate their parents, they will start to become accustomed to staying fit, make it part of their routine, and therefore, are much less likely to become obese and learn unhealthy habits as they grow up.
fb: Who are the primary instructors? (e.g, volunteer, professional, etc.). What is his/her approach?
MN: We use professionals in their specific field. For yoga, we use trained kids yoga teachers. For music & action, we use instructors who teach dance at studios. Soccer, we use coaches around the area who coach club and high school soccer. We do this not to make sure the kids learn a specific move or “train” them, but these professionals understand the activity, are good with children and are accustomed to handling groups of kids. This is extremely important as a program is only as good as the instructors that run them.
fb: Can you describe the sessions you have with kids in detail?
MN: We have several programs, so the sessions vary with what activities the kids are participating in. We follow the same premise, which is a warm-up, main event, and finale. The idea for our sessions is to keep them active so that they are getting a great workout without even knowing it. I love it when after a program a child looks at the coach and says “I’m sweating!” It’s one of my favorite lines that I hear from kids. That means they got a workout, had fun because they participated the whole time, and are now associating sweating as a good thing because it was fun. That’s hilarious, isn’t it!
fb: What differences do you see, if any, between boys and girls that participate in your programs?
MN: At the youngest age groups there is no difference. I have found that parents who are active and fitness conscious have kids who participate more and tend to fully engage in the program regardless of gender. It’s not about the parent’s being superior athletes. For example, if I am sitting on the couch eating ice cream and tell my child to go outside and run around they are less likely to do so, but if they see me working out and being physically active they will replicate that without knowing it.
fb: How often are the sessions? Where are the sessions?
MN: We run the sessions in VA, MD, and DC. You can find the specific information on our website. Our sessions run in 6 week intervals and continue throughout the entire year.
fb: What are the approximate costs per year for this activity?
MN: It all depends on how many sessions you sign you child up for. If you signed up for every session on Saturdays from January to December, it would be less than $500 for the year.
fb: You played competitive college soccer. What advice do you have for parents with regard to their kid’s sports involvement during the various phases of their lives (pre-elementary, elementary, high school)?
MN: The older a child gets the more ownership he/she has to take of his/her involvement in sports. 99% of the time a 4 yr old child is not going to come up to his parent’s and say I want to play soccer with GOL, so it’s the parent’s who are in charge of that.
Once you get to late elementary school and certainly high school, the athlete has to make that decision. Too many times you see children playing a sport and nothing comes of it because they don’t want to be there. Children can choose from a variety of offerings and then you have created both an understanding of the need to play something and the likelihood that their involvement will be better received.
For an athlete to play at the highest level it takes commitment, dedication, and passion and if you don’t love the sport you are playing then you won’t commit the time needed to be successful.
Now, if someone is playing sports for the camaraderie and pure enjoyment of the game, then parents will recognize that and not force a child to go to a higher level than the child wants because then the fun will disappear and the activity that is keeping a child fit, active, and socially engaged is lost.
I played soccer and it is still a huge part of my life, so my love for the game has only grown from when I was 3 or 4. I can only speak of my experiences, but I was always given the choice at every level of the path I wanted to take.
Did I want to forego a birthday party at 11 when I had a game? At 13, did I want to skip a school dance? Did I want to make the ultimate high school sacrifice and miss a school social event for games, tournaments, and showcases? Since I made those decisions, with my parents’ advice, I took ownership of those decisions and I was okay with missing an event.
Raising a happy, healthy child is the key! Whether it’s professional soccer or yoga on Saturdays, involvement is what will help build their character and grow up fit.
Matt Ney can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.