The Challenger Soccer Camp – perhaps better known as British soccer camp – was back in Hay River for another year last week, drawing record numbers.
“It’s just growing and growing,” said Michelle Staszuk, organizer for the newly revitalized Elks soccer program. “This seems to have been the highest turnout so far.”
With approximately 60 participants coming out for the five days of skills-development with coaches from the United Kingdom, Staszuk said one of the best parts of the camp is how it’s open to all between three and 18 years old, regardless of whether they’re involved in a regular league or other sport.
“The kids who were here in previous years all come back, and there’s always more coming out,” she said. “It’s just really accessible, and they have such a good time.”
Elks soccer, which runs independently from the camp, is growing its reach again after not running last summer, with new age-groups being added regularly as coaches step forward. While turnout for the practices fluctuate, Staszuk said the popularity is increasing, and with it, hopefully a greater appreciation for the world’s game.
“It’s great exposure for the kids to see people from other countries, and even get to know a little bit more about the stars and culture of the game,” she said, referring to the three UK coaches who made the trip to the NWT for the camp. “Even just hearing a different accent can be an experience for them.”
On top of drills and technique, the coaches did their best to incorporate a larger understanding of the game into their practices as well, including naming different parts of the field after famous players.
For instance, when the coach wanted the players to group-up in the centre of the field, he would call out that they go to Messi’s box, after Lionel Messi, the Argentinian superstar.
Staszuk said she hopes the camp’s growing popularity will not only mean more participants next year, but perhaps a step up in the level of amenities as well. Already this year the municipality provided a tent for shade and portable toilets free of charge, and Northmart donated cases upon cases of water bottles.
“These guys come here to teach our kids to play, and it’s just nice when we can host a better camp, for them and for the players,” she said.
The participants certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite taking multiple time-outs to comment on how their temporary coaches pronounced mundane words such as “water-bottle” and “football.”
“It’s been really good,” said Josee Touesnard, first-time participant in the camp. “I learned some moves with the ball, like passes and drills.”
Touesnard said she was looking forward to the annual Elks soccer tournament this fall and planned to apply what she learned at the camp to games against teams from across the Northwest Territories.
“I’m really really excited for that,” she said.