Sitting in the lounge of Life Time Sport at Winter Park, Kimberly Smith grades papers between glances at a TV monitor. Her children are among the fleet-footed soccer players running around on the screen. They are actually on the turf of a cavernous indoor field just behind a nearby door from where Smith sits.
Before the Minnesota Vikings opened its new training facility in Eagan, the lounge had been the players’ weight room and the field where they practiced on cold Minnesota days. But, soccer, not football, is now the center of attention here.
The Minnetonka Middle School East teacher gets a little time to herself while her daughter, 12, and son, 6, work up a sweat. The two kids are different players: one is competitive; the other is laid back. They both, Smith adds, find plenty of ways to have fun on the turf. “[My daughter] plays for two clubs, and they don’t get a chance to play against boys as they do here,” says the Minnetonka resident. “She likes the physical challenge of that. [My son], he likes to go out there and get some energy out and just run around.”
Fun is the primary objective of Life Time Sport, which opened its doors at the Vikings’ former training facility in Eden Prairie last October. Participants ages 5 through adult of all skill levels can play pickup-style soccer games. What does that mean? There are no tryouts, long lines for drills, competitive pressure or parents on the sidelines. (They can watch on TV monitors in the lounge or while working out.)
As Chanhassen-based Life Time, Inc., touts on its website, the program merges elements of pickup games and organized sports to provide the benefits of both: flexibility, coaching, leadership and active fun. The indoor football field is now seven small-sided soccer fields that accommodate up to 105 players. During the warmer months, the two outdoor football fields become 14 small-sided soccer fields for another 210 people.
“You don’t come here to get a scholarship; you come here to have fun,” explains Brandon Busbee, national soccer manager for Life Time. “Our purpose is not to be the best program for high-end players. We want to be the most welcoming program for everyone to stay active, stay involved, stay healthy.”
Though called Life Time Sport, soccer is the only sport. Life Time is exploring other sports and locations. Currently, Winter Park and the Lakeville Life Time are the two locations for Life Time Sport.
As someone who thrived as a “soccer club kid” growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Busbee says there is nothing wrong with competition. However, he says only about 12 percent of children in the state play on a soccer team of some sort. Life Time Sport wants to provide a place for those kids, as well as the rest, he says. “The number of us who go pro versus the number of us who want to go pro is widely different,” Busbee says. “And we also want to tell kids, ‘It’s okay. It’s okay not to be on varsity (soccer), and it’s okay not to be on the C1 premier team.’ If you play a sport because you love it, that's great. Have fun with it.”
The Life Time Sport at Winter Park
9520 Viking Drive, Eden Prairie
Open 30-plus hours a week, from 5-10 P.M. Mondays-Fridays, 10AM-3PM Saturdays, and 1-6PM Sundays.
For more information and the schedule for play times, visit sport.lifetime.life.