Soccer is Ayla Hoot’s favorite sport, whether she’s watching or playing it.
“I like them both,” said the 6-year-old.
Saturday morning, Ayla and dozens of other children who play with the Buffalo Soccer Club on Hickory Street had the chance to practice with Olympic gold medal winner Brandi Chastain, who hosted a soccer clinic at Franczyk Park on the city’s East Side.
“We learned to be like a flamingo when we try to kick the ball and to brush the grass with our feet,” said Ayla.
Her father, Joe, was very impressed with Chastain’s style and commitment to the youngsters.
“She’s such a good coach, and she’s bringing so many skills to all age groups,” Hoot said.
A California resident, 44-year-old Chastain has won two Olympic gold medals, one Olympic silver medal and two World Cup championships.
But what she loves more is sharing soccer with young players, she said.
“I want kids to walk away thinking ‘I learned something and had fun,’ ” said the soccer star.
The focus during Saturday’s event was healthy kids, healthy families and healthy communities. Chastain helped the young players with their soccer techniques and offered tips for success.
“Move those feet. Bend the knees. Put on the big brains. Now we’re super-powered,” Chastain said while showing the youngsters how to use three parts of the foot to trap a ball.
Along with other adult volunteers, Chastain performed a drill that involved tossing soccer balls over the kids’ heads so they could learn how to trap the balls and pass them into the goal.
Nine-year-old Shardaja Byrd was focused on the drill and eager to master it.
“She’s getting the hang of it,” said mom Lisa, adding that the clinic with Chastain was a great opportunity for the children to get instruction from a professional.
“It’s wonderful for the children. They get a lot of movement and exercise,” Byrd said. “It’s good for the kids.”
Shardaja also is involved in other activities like singing and dance. That is the kind of involvement that Chastain encourages children to embrace.
“We want children to be as diverse as they can in school, playing [sports], music,” said the Olympic medalist.
A parent herself of two boys, Chastain said it is not enough for parents to tell their children to be healthy, stay active and take care of themselves. It is important for parents to get involved, too, and set good examples for their kids to follow.
“I get a lot of sleep. I stay hydrated through the day. I eat well with multiple colors on my plate. Adopt healthy choices, and kids will follow,” she said.
The professional soccer player co-founded two not-for-profit programs. The Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative uses female college athletes as mentors for younger girls. Reach Up World is a mentoring program that focuses on older girls. Both organizations encourage girls to develop skills to make healthy lifestyle choices.
The event was sponsored by Libby’s Fruits & Vegetables, and every Buffalo Soccer Club team had the chance to work with Chastain.
During the clinic, Chastain presented a $5,000 donation to the Buffalo Soccer Club on behalf of Libby’s.