Sport and Fun for your Little One: Voetjebal and Panasj Hockey

December 06, 2017 By Lori Evans 0 Comments

Field hockey and football – two of the biggest sports in The Netherlands! Lori Evans spent a morning learning how the Panasj and Voetjebal programs infuse excitement for these sports into the youngest of students through structured play.

You cannot go far in Amsterdam without seeing dedicated hockey players and footballers of all ages.  I see packs of teenagers cheerfully riding bikes home from practices in matching gear, hockey sticks strapped on their backs, and youngsters gleefully slogging it out on the football pitch no matter the weather (usually wearing shorts!).

The Netherlands boasts the winningest teams in both men’s and women’s field hockey history and the Netherlands women’s football team just won the European Championship. There are lots of dreams of professional careers, and plenty of inspiration for dedicated amateurs.  

Wondering how you get your teeny, tiny tot started? Panasj or Voetjebal might just be right for you.

Voetjebal and Panasj Hockey are two great sport programs that grew out of one philosophy – teaching the basics to children as young as two, in a fun, encouraging, and age-appropriate manner.

A Philosophy of Fun and Fitness

Voetjebal and Panasj Hockey are two great sport programs that grew out of one philosophy – teaching the basics to children as young as two, in a fun, encouraging, and age-appropriate manner.

A structured lesson plan is delivered simultaneously across all venues. Each lesson introduces a new skill related to the sport in a playful way and reviews what has already been learned. The weekly classes open and close with the same regular activity, creating a sense of familiarity reassuring to children of this age. I watched two classes say hello to different body parts, giggling when they had to greet their own knees or bums, stretching and stomping, and saying goodbye to their feet at the end, all to a cheerful and energetic musical background.

Sjoerd Wartena and Govert van Doesburgh, both top-level sportsmen, brought the concept to Amsterdam. They wanted to use their own expertise to get more young children active in hockey and football. Their concept was put into action in 2005 in Den Haag and now over 1000 children enjoy their football and hockey courses every week in venues across Amsterdam.

Passionate, Enthusiastic Instructors

Strong teachers are the key to the success of any teaching program, and the two trainers I met were great examples of what you can expect.

Thorsten de Muijnk welcomed me at the Willem Witsenstraat location for a 45-minute Saturday morning football class for 2- and 3-year-olds with their parents. He told me how he loves watching the children move through developmental levels from the simplest tasks, gaining more skills and confidence, into more difficult techniques. He says it’s quite special that parents come with their children and spend quality time sporting, including lots of fathers.

It’s quite special that parents come with their children and spend quality time sporting.

Thorsten gives loads of high fives and double-hands up victory shouts when anyone makes a goal or accomplishes a set task. The class supplies colorful hoops, balls, cones, and bumpy/squishy “domes” that can be used in many creative ways. Thorsten tells me that there are many creative games that cleverly disguise the fact the children are training muscles and body parts that are important for good football skills. It was delightful to watch these wee ones running around the gym, climbing, improving their balance and hand-eye coordination, and of course, also kicking tiny footballs into tiny goals.

Exercising Brains as well as Bodies

I followed the football class with a hockey class for 4- and 5-year-olds led by Elise Merkx at the Geert Grote School. There are over 10 locations around Amsterdam – and others a little further afield – for both Panasj hockey and Voetjebal classes, meaning there is bound to be one close to home.

As I walked into Elise’s class, I saw nothing but eager, grinning faces from children who couldn’t wait for class to begin. It was amazing to see slightly older children able to do many more controlled activities. They learned to “tick-tock,” moving a soft ball back and forth with their hockey sticks like a clock pendulum. The squishy domes were tricky to stand or run on, or to carry on the hockey sticks in a game the children themselves named “pizza baker”. Many of the exercises not only stimulate parts of the brain that help with movement, but also with counting and reading. Important skills such as concentration, balance, and coordination are mastered in carefully sequenced steps – while the kids just thought it was great fun!

Elise gave clear and easy to follow instructions in Dutch with many visual aids. All the classes are in Dutch, however the trainers are able to speak to parents in English. The songs are all in Dutch, so as an added bonus, it’s a great place to practice basic Dutch language skills. To balance this, parents work with their own children in their language of choice.

Growing in Confidence and Independence

Voetjebal and Panasj Hockey classes are split into age groups for children from ages two to ten years. Each group builds on the skills learned in the previous group, preparing the children ultimately to move on to one of the many training organisations for older children.  

For the youngest children, the parents work as partners throughout the entire class. As the children progress, the parents are encouraged to step back gradually, until around age five, the children are comfortable enough to participate in the class without parental assistance. I watched Elise set up colored cones and direct the children to run in a line to the color she called out to great squeals of delight. One or two children were holding hands helping each other, and one parent was helping a child, but already most of these 4- and 5-year-olds were doing this activity independently.

With sessions running in so many locations, there is sure to be a  Panasj or Voetjebal class out there to suit your little one. Children aged 2-6 can sign up for football, while hockey is open to kids aged 3-10. Sport camps are offered during school holidays to help run off that extra energy, and naturally, birthday parties are another service offered. 

To find out more about these activities, visit the Panasj and Voetjebal websites. 

Disclaimer: Panasj Amsterdam has paid to be featured on Amsterdam Mamas because they believe that their services would be of interest and benefit to our readers, and we think so too. For more information on sponsored posts and advertising on Amsterdam Mamas, please see our Advertising and Disclosure policy.

Lori Evans is a musician, piano teacher, and writer from the USA, heading into her third year in the Netherlands. She lives with her techie husband, her delightful 15-year-old son, and two cats that also braved the transatlantic crossing, and fiercely misses her 19-year-old daughter now attending college in NYC.  


Related articles:

News and weekly events listings


About us

Welcome to the largest and fastest growing parenting community in the city. Bringing you everything you need, to be the family that you want.

Amsterdam Mamas is a volunteer-run foundation providing information and support to international parents in Amsterdam and the surrounding regions.