FOR many parents, whether they like it or not, the weekend means football.

But parents across Gwent are now being spoilt for choice with football centres, or ‘soccer schools’ as they are often called, becoming increasingly popular.

Leisure centres are known to arrange play schemes or certain sport-specific programmes for schoolchildren during the holidays, but there are now football centres in place to fit the needs of aspiring footballers across the area. But it is not always about coaching youngsters, it is also about fun, and developing their social skills at a young age.

That is the view of former professional footballer Paul Feltham, who is the founding member of Shoot! Sports Academy in Newport.

The 38-year-old father-of-one played for Oldham Athletic and Bristol City as a pro, but now gets his satisfaction from seeing children in Gwent taking part in fun football activities at their main centre in Bettws.

The Active Living Centre offers twice weekly football sessions, which are run every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning and are open to boys and girls of all abilities between the ages of four and 11.

It employs 14 coaches who usually work for two sessions a week between two and 10 to 12 hours.

The Saturday sessions, known as Mini Shooters, is the centre’s bread and butter, but it also holds special one-day sessions and events at primary schools across Gwent throughout the year.

“The main thing for us it that it’s very much a social thing for the children, and that they get the chance to interact with children from all different backgrounds and schools,” said Paul.

“We work in a lot of schools as well and we do loads of holiday camps. We go to primary schools in Langstone, a couple in Magor, Malpas, Pentrepoeth and others.

“Everything we do is based around fun – it’s not your stereotypical training session. There is loads of contact with the ball and we concentrate on the ABCs – agility, balance and co-ordination.

“Our most popular sessions tend to be the Saturday morning ones – we get 20 or 22 boys and girls taking part in the hour-long sessions. At our holiday camps, which run during the school holiday periods, we have around 50 or 60 children taking part.

“But it’s not just football that we do; we offer multi-sport activities during the holiday camps as well.”

All the coaches employed by the centre have the minimum level of qualifications required, some even have the UEFA-accredited B Licence. Each one has had their enhanced CRB checks and are all first aid trained.

It is also a “Fun Football Registered” centre, which means that they are accredited by the Football Association of Wales.

The current centre has been running for four years, since it opened in 2009, but is hoping to move into its new centre in the next few weeks, based in the industrial estate on Telford Street, off Corporation Road.

“We are expanding quite heavily at the moment and we are hoping to adopt a few more schools as well,” added Paul.

The ex-pro, whose 10-year-old son Josh attends football sessions four times a week, is keen for parents to encourage their children to undertake such activities because it improves not only their physical capabilities, but also their social skills as well. He said: “Physically, it’s great for them and socially, it’s just trying to get them out and about so that they’re not on their Xbox all day.”

The centre offers free taster sessions for youngsters who have an interest in taking part. For more information contact Paul and the team on 01633 412511.