The talented footballing twins who will make sure your children get plenty of kicks this summer
Andrew and Aaron Burns, who play for Dungannon and Linfield respectively, tell Helen Carson what girls and boys will get from their soccer school next month.
Northern Ireland soccer stars of the future have double the chance of becoming the next David Healy or Jonny Evans thanks to a special summer soccer school in Banbridge next month.
Local footballing twins, Aaron and Andrew Burns of Burns Soccer School, have teamed up with The Outlet in Banbridge to offer a free event due to take place on August 7, 21 and 28, at the retail park.
The Irish League football stars - Aaron currently plays for Linfield and brother Andrew plays for Dungannon - say the fun event which aims to get children, aged four to 12, out of the house and kicking a ball over the long summer holidays, also has important social elements, too.
Aaron, who is studying for a degree in sports science at the Ulster University, says encouraging children to participate in physical exercise is key to overcoming childhood obesity, as well as building social skills among the youngsters.
"Events like Football Fridays are about children getting out and getting active and that is central to our approach at the soccer school," he says. "Our coaches have degrees and one of the main aspects of our approach is to provide an opportunity for boys and girls to get involved in sport.
"Overcoming obesity is the goal we are trying to achieve with the coaching sessions. The Outlet is sponsoring this event which offers an opportunity for children to get some coaching and get them out of the house and mix with other children."
And he is also urging young girls to come along, and not be put off the predominantly male sport: "This event is a great opportunity for all children, but especially for girls who can be a bit nervous about coming down in case it is all boys."
Now that women's football is starting to get a bigger media profile, Aaron says girls keen to hone their soccer skills shouldn't be shy.
The women's game got a welcome boost earlier this year following the World Cup success of the England women's team who reached the semi-finals of this year's tournament, only to lose out to Japan in heartbreaking fashion when England player Laura Bassett scored an own goal. While the Lionesses made history for English football, the tournament made a heroine of Steph Houghton, their team captain, which has in turn helped raise the profile for women's soccer generally.
"Girls can be easier to coach than boys as they tend to have a longer attention span and are always very pleasant, so I definitely want to see them coming along and joining in. This event is for them, too," says Aaron.
Children of all abilities are also welcome to Football Fridays with all ages and experience catered for. Aaron explains the youngsters are divided up into age appropriate groups with the chance to learn new techniques and grow their confidence along with their ball skills: "Kids tend to develop at different rates, both in terms of their confidence and their physical and playing abilities. Very often a child will come along to a coaching session with their parents and are too shy to join in straight away. It is difficult even for their parents to get them there. When I see a youngster feeling anxious I encourage them to just watch at first, then maybe get a ball at their feet. Just because they don't get involved straight away doesn't mean that they won't become confident with a little encouragement."
Because there was always plenty of encouragement for the Banbridge twins, who grew up in a football-mad household, Aaron says having a positive approach works wonders when it comes to getting children to join in.
"Very often it is the parent who thinks their child won't want to come along and join in with sport, but children are naturally curious and, once they relax they will want to take part and enjoy it," he says.
The twin brothers ensure their coaching sessions are all about each child's needs: "When we are coaching the parents wait outside as they can sometimes prove a distraction to their child. Sometimes the youngster will run back and forth to their parents, yet when they are gone they forget their mum or dad is not around. Also, if a parent shouts out to their child, this stops them in their tracks so they're not concentrating on the session."
The benefits of soccer coaching are not all physical either, according to Aaron: "The social attributes of playing football are massive. Andrew and I wouldn't know half the people we do now if we didn't play football.
"And it's the same for children - it's amazing how they interact with each other, building relationships and making new friends, and they don't even realise they're doing it."
The 23-year-old twins have been involved with football for as long as they can remember.
"We come from a big footballing family, it was all about Man United in our house growing up. It's just as well we took to football," he jokes.
And even though the twins match each other in their footballing skills, there was never any rivalry between the two for a place on the team.
"I'm left-footed and play left midfield while Andy is right-footed and his position is left back," says Aaron. "We have always been competing for different positions, and luckily we were both always among the better playing children so we always got on to the team. There has never really been any adverse competition between us."
The brothers' dad, Francis, of course, played the game and was an avid fan with their mum, Wendy, always the most enthusiastic spectator whenever her boys were playing.
"Our parents gave us everything and have both been so good to Andy and I," says Aaron. "My mum has always watched us play, in fact, she had never missed a game until we went to play for different teams. Up until our teens we had always been on the same team. Now that I am with Linfield and Andy is at Dungannon, she divides her Saturdays between the two of us - so she is cheering on at least one of us every weekend."
Aaron and Andy still live with their folks at the family home in Banbridge so they appreciate the importance of parental support in their lives and sporting careers.
At Burns Soccer School, the brothers have fellow footballers Matthew Hazley, who is currently Andrew's team mate at Dungannon FC, and previously played for Crusaders and Stoke City, and Adam Pedlow of Banbridge Town FC (formerly Glenavon and Loughgall FC) on their coaching staff.
The school, based in their home town, provides coaching for primary and post primary school children with the combined goals of helping kids enjoy the sport while developing their talent, too.
Aaron says: "We want to make sure all the children have a smile on their face and that they are having the best time possible, but to also add in drills that will be challenging to them, that will give them the opportunity to gradually improve." Again, the core ethos is to help young people grow up fitter as well as making a whole new circle of friends through one-to-one sessions, after-school training, coaching camps during school holidays as well as special events, such as birthdays. There is also a Friday night coaching camp to help spread the word about the beautiful game to a new generation of players whether they make it on to the world stage or not.
- The Outlet and Burns Soccer School will team up for Football Fridays on August 7, 21 and 28. Children from 4-12 years old will get the chance to take part in free coaching and demonstrations. Visit www.the-outlet.co.uk for details
The NI stars who made it big
- George Best was described by the IFA as the "greatest player to pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland". Belfast-born George began his club career with Manchester United, with the scout who spotted him sending a telegram to manager Matt Busby which read: "I think I've found you a genius." He scored 179 goals in 470 appearances for the club. He quit United in 1974, but returned to football for clubs around the world before retiring in 1983, age 37
- Pat Jennings OBE (70), from Newry, played a record 119 games for Northern Ireland in an international career which lasted for more than 22 years. He played for Newry Town, Watford, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, winning the FA Cup with both of the north London rivals. He also scored in the 1967 FA Charity Shield
- Belfast-born Norman Whiteside (50) holds the record as the youngest player to take part in a World Cup, as well as the youngest to score in League Cup and FA Cup finals, as well as scoring a senior goal for Manchester United aged 17. He scored 68 goals in 278 appearances for the club
- David Healy MBE (36) is the leading scorer for NI with 36 goals and holds the record for the highest scoring tally during a UEFA European Championship qualifying campaign with 13
- Jonny Evans (27) was called up to the NI squad for the first time in September 2006, making his debut in the memorable 3-2 victory over Spain