PULLMAN, Wash. – Motivated young soccer players can improve their skills by kicking the ball around, but how do they improve their understanding of the rules of the game? At a higher level, how do they use those rules to their advantage?
Those are questions Aziz Makhani, a youth and adult league soccer referee, has been pondering for years.
Too often, he said, young players seem confused by the technical aspects of the game or a penalty call, and confusion leads to frustration. He tries to educate as well as officiate during games, he said, but he knew there had to be a better way.
To market in a year
In 2011, he had a middle-of-the-night epiphany and soon after started his own business, Sports Cards and Games, as a platform to launch a soccer board game. KickShot emphasizes technical components – such as throw-ins, slide tackles and headers – as well as scoring goals. The game is available online at http://kickshot.org/ and perhaps at a soccer fundraiser near you.
Makhani said dozens of people have helped him move KickShot from idea to market in little more than a year. (His wife, Beverly Makhani, is director of communications and marketing for WSU’s University College and Honors College. She was an early investor in the project.)
But Pullman-based Terry Cornelison, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC), has been Makhani’s go-to resource from the beginning.
The Washington SBDC is supported by Washington State University, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and other institutions of higher education and economic development. The SBDC offers small business owners free, confidential, one-to-one advising that meets the client’s needs, from a one-time meeting to a relationship that may last a decade or more.
Valued sounding board
Makhani has more than 20 years of experience in product development, marketing and sales, mostly in high-tech and engineering firms. But creating his own small business to develop and market a board game from the ground up was a new experience. Being able to call or meet with Cornelison to discuss a question or concern – at no charge – was a huge benefit, he said.
From the beginning, Makhani said, Cornelison has been a sounding board, a resource for additional expertise and a trusted advisor.
“He never says, ‘That’s a bad idea,’” Makhani said. “Instead, he says, ‘Have you thought about that?’”
Makhani wanted to focus on the game itself, but Cornelison advised him to take a step back and focus on his business plan – his mission and vision statements in particular.
Water bottles and posters too
Did Makhani want to create one board game or a sustainable business? If his goal was a business, he might want to explore opportunities to expand the brand to other deliverables, in the way that Angry Birds now glare forth on everything from lunch boxes to sport shoes to sunglasses.
With a road map in hand, Makhani said, he’s been able to move forward quickly. Working with his graphic artist, Noah Kroese, licensing experts and manufacturing companies, he created three collateral products – motivational posters, washable placemats and branded water bottles with Propel Zero electrolyte packets – that are being rolled out at the same time as the game.
The key to it all, though, is the board game.
At the simplest level, Makhani said, players try to score goals (or defend against them) with the roll of the dice. At the next level, players use a subset of cards to move the ball up and down the board with specialized techniques such as headers, throw-ins and bicycle kicks.
KickShot also introduces referee signals for specific infringements, such as direct free kicks, penalty kicks and offsides.
At the most advanced level, each team has a total of 71 cards to play, both offense and defense, and 13 different action cards.
The final version is the result of countless revisions to streamline the rules, retain the educational focus and boost the fun factor. Makhani reached out to soccer players, board gamers, teachers, coaches and anyone else he could think of who might be interested in KickShot.
“Community outreach has been an amazingly enjoyable journey for me,” he said. “The title of my talk (to various groups) is ‘It takes a community to develop a creative product’ and I really believe it.”
“The amount of heart he has put into this game is remarkable,” said Tejasvi Prakash, who beta tested the game alongside his 6-year-old son, Ayden. Ayden had played micro-soccer, Prakash said, so he was able to pick up the basics of KickShot very quickly. And he was drawn in by the colorful playing cards depicting soccer-playing hippos, giraffes, lions and more.
Moscow (Idaho) Junior High School physical education teacher Jessica Shawley, the National Association of Sport and Physical Education 2012 Teacher of the Year, said that after watching her students play the game during a free choice activity period, she’s a believer.
She was impressed at the way the game changes with the sophistication of the players, from fairly simple to very strategic. While it’s obviously important to develop soccer skills on the field, she said, KickShot is a great way to get kids thinking strategically about the game.
“Any time you can get kids thinking about soccer off the field it’s a good thing,” she said. “As a youth coach, I can really see the benefit of a board game like this.”
Soccer fundraisers worldwide
Makhani has created a KickShot website to promote the game and other products and is looking for a developer to create a mobile app. Regional soccer clubs plan to sell the game as a fundraiser, a strategy that could grow to other parts of the country – or the world.
“I’m only on one-tenth of my journey,” Makhani said. “I still have nine-tenths of my journey to go.”
To learn more about KickShot, go to http://www.KickShot.org
About the Washington SBDC
With 24 offices and 30 advisors across the state, the SBDC provides community-based services to client businesses from the Canadian border to the Columbia River. In addition to offering one-to-one, confidential, business advising at no cost to the client, the SBDC also provides new-to-export advising, training programs, workshops and market research services.
For more information about the Washington SBDC go to http://www.wsbdc.org.