Islanders learn more than soccer at camp
The camp was led by 12 soccer coaches, hailing from Ireland, Scotland and England, who stayed with local hosts, including two Jamestown families.
"We hosted Andy as a coach last year and we stayed in touch with him over the winter, so he came back and stayed with us again this year," Esther Novis said. "We had heard for years about how much fun the British soccer camps were, but when we did our first one last year we loved it so much that we signed up for their other camp in August."
The coaches ranged in age from 18 to 26 years old, and brought a wealth of diversity outside of soccer to the camp.
Kelly MacPhail, who hails from Manchester, England, is a two-handicap golfer and a certified golf professional.
James Ingham is the son of a retired Royal Navy officer, has lived in the United States on two different occasions and just finished his second year of law school.
"We actually have coaches who are teachers in the U.K. and come to America to coach for us over their summer break for about six weeks," Tom Williams, the Challenger Soccer regional director for the Rhode Island area, said.
Their coaches will teach approximately 85,000 campers in the United States this summer.
Williams points out that part of the success of the camp is finding the right combination of coaches, and that coaches are screened and tested before they are offered a coaching position.
"We aren't taking someone who just wants to come to America for an eight-week vacation," Williams explained. "We have a full-time staff in the U.K. that works yearround on finding the best coaches."
Applicants go through a fourstep application process that includes a police and FBI background check and two separate training weekends before the best are offered positions as Challenger coaches.
"One of the first things the coaches have to do is a 15-minute coaching session with 15 of the other applicants. If you can do a session with 15 of your peers who you have never met before, then you might be someone we can look at to coach kids," Williams said.
The second step involves an indepth interview process and then the coaches have a selection training weekend, all before they are even considered for a position.
Although the process may seem a little in-depth to coach a summer camp, Williams said that is because Challenger takes its mission seriously.
"We want to bring the game of soccer to everybody, no matter who they are and we do that through our coaches and our curriculum," he said.
The Challenger model involves maximum participation, the idea that the children are working with the ball most of the time.
They have combined the best of several international coaching models to come up with a philosophy that helps kids to learn serious skills while having fun.
"That was probably my favorite thing about the camp," Mary Waddington said. "I would watch John and he would be so excited and having such a good time. He came away laughing, but he was learning skills the entire time."
When asked what his favorite part of the camp was, John said, "I really loved playing in the World Cup games."
The campers are divided into World Cup teams, and spend the final part of each session competing against each other for the coveted World Cup championship at the end of the week.
World Cup points are earned not only by the final score of the games, but also for sportsmanship, team spirit, encouraging other players and a myriad of other things designed to develop children into well-rounded players.
Even water breaks have a purpose at the camp. Players are encouraged to learn about their countries and participate in games such as World Cup trivia during the breaks.
"We don't want the kids to just take something away from the camp, we want to leave them with something," Williams said.
One Challenger coach, David Costello, told a story that he shares with his teams about the importance of the learning as they go.
"I had one camp where the Wales team kept telling me all week that they were going to have the most massive flag on World Cup day. The parents and the kids had been working on it all week," he said. "On Friday, it took four parents to carry the thing out to the field. When they started to unroll it, I realized they had made a flag with a huge blue whale on it. I gave them a load of points for their effort, but now I definitely direct the kids to where they can get information about their country."
Other island campers, such as Finn Dwyer, enjoyed the camp's themed days. Soak the coach day and Wacky Wednesday were big hits and kept the mood light even when the mercury was rising.
With facts about 16 different countries in their heads, and a lot of soccer knowledge tucked away in their brains, the campers left smiling on the last day, a fact which pleases Williams.
"I am from Wales, but Rhode Island is my home. I have lived here six years and I am immersed in this community and in the soccer community and I really care that soccer is presented in a great way to these kids," he concluded.
For more information about Challenger camps, club trainers or British soccer tours, visit the Challenger website at www.challengersports. com.