More than 40 kids signed up for a week-long camp to learn soccer skills from coaches with a true appreciation for the sport.
“In the U.K., everyone grows up with soccer,” said Matt Blake, a coach with the Challenger Sports program based in Calgary. “We’re trying to instil the same thing here in Canada.”
Hay River was one stop in an eight-week trip that took the two U.K. coaches all over Western Canada, making other northern stops in Fort Smith and Yellowknife. The camp – held last week in Hay River – focused on foundational soccer skills for kids of all ages, but Blake admitted he focused on tricks and skills the young players could use to take on opposing teams. Every day was devoted to a different aspect of the game, including passing, free throws and – on July 11 – headers.
“None of my friends at home can say they’ve been to the places I have,” said Blake, who is on his second tour with the program.
This is the third year the camp has come to Hay River and it proved even more popular than previous instalments. Blake said the 25 players in his group were a larger contingent than he was used to dealing with, but their attitudes made his job easy.
“Twenty-five is a huge group,” he said, noting the original plan called for three coaches, but one had to drop out of the program. “They’ve been awesome. No complaining, full participation, and you can tell they are all really engaged and excited to be here.”
Camp participant Patrick Riche’s mother, Michelle Staszuk, can testify to that excitement. She said her son, aged seven, came home from a full day of soccer camp clamouring to go back outside and practise moves for the next day.
“It’s not just mine,” Staszuk said. “I’ve been hearing from other parents, as well, that their kids are really excited about practising soccer, too.”
Staszuk pointed out that, in spite of having larger-than-average groups, the coaches devoted a lot of attention to developing skills in individual players.
“They’re really specific skills, too,” she said. “It’s impressive how they can work so well with the group and spend time with each kid, too. Matt had learned all their names by the second day.”
But the learning opportunities at the camp were not limited to only the sport itself. Staszuk said her son came home knowing more about Wales – from whence Blake hails – than she could have imagined.
“It’s a neat experience,” she said. “They get to learn about other countries while learning to play soccer, too.”
This was her son’s second year participating in the camp and he wishes there were programs like it for other sports, according to Staszuk. “He came home after the first day saying, ‘Why can’t we have this for basketball and hockey and softball and all the other sports, too?’”
— Sarah Ladik