Youth soccer has come a long way! In 1978 when I first came to the USA to work at a summer camp on the Cape, the average child probably regarded soccer as something from a different planet! A few Wayland kids at my camp had played a little but that was about it. Two years later I returned to work at a soccer camp down in Connecticut. That's right an American summer camp dedicated only to SOCCER!!! What I found was pretty primitive, to put it mildly, but at least the camp was dedicated to "the beautiful game" and that for me was a great start.
I did the Vogelsinger "thing" for 3 summers (for the uninitiated that was the Puma All-Star Soccer School as it was then known). I had the chance to travel the country and worked camps in New Jersey, Texas, California and Wisconsin in addition to New England. At that time I received the distinct impression that parents sent their children to soccer camp to learn the game pretty much from scratch! They may have been playing with their town or school but soccer camp was THE way to truly become a budding young soccer protege. The player would be a novice on day 1 and a soccer expert by the end of the week. Times and perceptions have certainly changed!
As my own soccer experience evolved so too has that of American youth soccer. In 1983 I moved to this country pursuing a Master's Degree down in Pennsylvania. Along the way, I tasted some alternative soccer camp programs such as North American Soccer Camps (in contemporary parlance read Challenger. NASC established the blueprint for these kind of "kiddie" soccer camps) and a major regional camp from that part of country, Middle States Soccer Camp. Different approaches and new camp ideas for me!
My view of American youth soccer continued to be guided by soccer camps along with a new interest, College soccer. At that time, College soccer was truly the end of the line in the overall American youth soccer process. Camps played a major part in putting the players of that era there. It was not until 1986, whilst an Assistant with the Men's program at Dartmouth, that my American youth soccer education took a massive leap forward. The spring of that year I became involved with the local "Upper Valley Soccer Club" and the "Lightning Youth Soccer" program. Additionally, I signed up to coach the New Hampshire u16 Girls team in the Olympic Development Program. My eyes were opened to the day to day, bread and butter issues of the growing youth game in the USA. Youth soccer was becoming more and more sophisticated. It was clear that soccer camp was no longer the only way to receive a good soccer education and background.
In the 25 years since I feel have experienced it all! Clubs, teams, players. State teams, regional teams, college teams. Boys, girls, all age groups, all abilities. State Associations, youth soccer associations and last but not least, soccer camps! These days soccer camps come in all shapes and sizes. From the teenyboppers chasing the ball in packs through to the teenagers chasing soccer scholarships at College. Some even the dream of professional soccer as it not unusual now for Americans to pursue soccer as a career both at home and abroad. Soccer camps can also be specialized by position, can be combines for colleges and clubs, or can be designed for gender or particular age groups. The perception that soccer camp is the way to churn out young soccer players in a week has largely evaporated.
American youth soccer has become increasingly complex. Town, club, ODP, Y-League, Academy, there are now so many leagues and levels of youth soccer that it is truly difficult to keep track of it all. With American youth soccer players having so many diverse soccer options it is very reasonable to wonder about the role, and, indeed, the value, of the soccer camp in the education of the American youth soccer player?
As a very experienced youth soccer I believe strongly that there is both a positive role and great value to the soccer camp in 2013. A good soccer camp definitely has a place in the all around education of a young soccer player. Times may have changed but many soccer camps have evolved to match the new demands and expectations of the American youth soccer player. Whilst, it may no longer be considered the a major producer of players a soccer camp can still help young players in several key areas:
- Camp provides a place to play and make friends. Parents sometimes neglect this! Soccer is a game and camp is a great place to play and meet new people. Its the case for boys and girls of all ages but most especially at the younger ages.
- Soccer camps can give the players new voices and new ideas to listen to. New things can be learned by the young player as they experience different coaching influences outside the familiar ones of their home towns and teams.
- Camps can provide specialized training be it by position, such as goalkeepers, or for key parts of the game such as defending or finishing.
- In the final analysis, and in the opinion of the writer, a soccer camp is currently the best way to practice soccer techniques and skills. When you think about it the typical club, town or school practice may have a little technical training in their sessions as the job of the coach is predominantly to prepare for the next game. Skills tend to be neglected. It is widely accepted that a player requires a minimum of 2,000 touches a day to help with their development. Camp is about the only place in a structured environment that provides the opportunity to do this. It is perhaps the only soccer training situation that has the time! Many camps provide a ball for every player so that they can practice on technique during the training sessions. If a camp program provides long periods of practice on dribbling, fast footwork, running with the ball, juggling etc. then there are strong possibilities for skill and technical development. This is an overlooked area for all young players. On a good camp technical training will not be short changed as there is time to pursue it at length.
In conclusion, over the course of my own American soccer experience the game has changed & evolved. Further, American soccer has improved tremendously. I see the camp as a strong supplement to all the other areas of the youth game that the typical youth soccer player will experience as they progress through the childhood and teenage years. I know that that is my goal with Boston Soccer Academy!
Consequently, the role and perception of the soccer camp has similarly changed. As parents look around for a camp obviously issues such as the age and experience of their child will be something that must be initially considered as they try to select amongst the many camp options out there.
Beyond that there are other things to consider. One thing that I would encourage parents to keep in mind are that camps are invariably mixed ability. Its kind of like going to school in its own way! Teams in the home town are relatively homogenous ie. similar age & ability. This is rarely going to be the case at camp. This is not necessarily disadvantageous if there is a strong teaching program and good organizational structure within the camp.
To my way of thinking the key questions when evaluating a camp program are does the camp provide a training program? ie. one that builds day to day and has progression. The days can also be long for young players so is the program still fun and enjoyable? Obviously fun for a 7 and 8 year old is very different to that of someone who is 17 or 18. Whatever the case, camp should be enjoyable, for the learning process to be enhanced, and age appropriate.
In 2013 the soccer camp retains its place on the American youth soccer scene. It is just different from what it used to be thirty years ago. Try to find a camp that fits the appropriate needs of your child and let them enjoy the great game. Soccer is no longer the sport from a different planet. Its now the most popular youth sport for American boys and girls!! Times have most certainly changed and so has the American Soccer Camp! Please contact me if you would like to find out more about soccer camps the Boston Soccer Academy way!