Former Sydney FC defender Jacob Timpano and his brother Matt have developed an educational app that uses soccer as a vehicle to teach children preschool concepts such as colours, numbers and shapes.
It seems a counter-intuitive combination — an app that encourages children to lead an active lifestyle, but the brothers feel they have struck the right balance.
As an experienced early childhood worker, Matt has drawn on his expertise to design an educational tool he said would provide valuable screen time while also encouraging users to put it aside and head outdoors.
The free Soccerman app uses the character the brothers designed for a children's book.
"It's a story book about promoting a healthy lifestyle and being active, rather than staying at home playing video games like a lot of children do," Matt said.
"Three years later, we put it into an interactive app which includes educational games like counting, colour matching, fruit and vegetables and shapes."
The app blends in soccer by using images and animations to carry the story and tasks, and includes a story about Soccerboy.
"The story is Soccerboy grows up to be Soccerman, and we have drafts in the pipeline of more stories that will focus on different themes like road safety and beach safety, based on the character Soccerman," Matt said.
Working with children less stressful
When he is not delivering a program for healthy living and developing motor skills in preschools with his brother, Jacob is coach of the Wollongong Wolves, a team that competes in the National Premier Leagues NSW.
He is also a former professional soccer player for A League club Sydney FC.
He said working with children was a welcome break from the stress of high level playing and coaching.
"Obviously with my football background, giving back to the younger ones is quite enjoyable," Jacob said.
"Sometimes as professionals and coaching at higher levels, it's a lot more pressure and stress, but getting back to the younger ones is fun.
"You see the enjoyment of the kids and that's what keeps you ticking over and gives us as coaches and mentors the enjoyment as well."
He said the preschool students he worked with called him Soccerman rather than Jacob.
App available in Chinese to target wider market
China is a country that is making a concerted effort to be a dominant world force in soccer.
The country has imported world leaders in coaching and playing, as well as health, technical and data analysis experts.
Jacob and Matt have seen the potential and have made their app available in Mandarin.
"We thought we'd spread our wings a bit and we know soccer in China is very large and there's a lot of Chinese people in Australia, so we thought we'd get it in Chinese," Matt said.
"We've had Chinese people tell us it gives their children a chance to learn English too.
"So firstly it's Chinese and hopefully in the future we can add some other languages to it too."
Matt said he had been careful to make sure the app did not keep kids sitting in front of the screen for too long.
"It's educational screen time, and a balance of both [screen and exercise] is important," he said.
"The app promotes being active, and if we can provide them with something that encourages them to get outside and be active, as well as learn their shapes, colours and numbers, that's all the background behind it."
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