LEICESTER, Mass.— As athletes from around the world descended upon London for the start of the Olympics, soccer coaches from England were lifting the spirits and honing the skills of young athletes in Leicester through the week-long Challenger Sports camp at Memorial School.
For the past four years, Leicester Soccer Club and Challenger Sports have teamed up to offer the British Soccer Camp in town, and this year 97 kids from the ages of 4 to 14 took part in the unique opportunity.
"I think we deliver a very unique blend of a high degree of soccer-specific activities, along with ensuring that the overall experience that the children attain is one they will cherish for a long, long time," said coach Tom Shields of Hull, England. "Given that we're British is also a unique twist."
Coming from across the pond, 11 coaches stayed with host families in Leicester throughout the week, sharing their passion for a sport that has played an important part in their own lives.
"Ultimately our job is to facilitate a love for the game," said Shields, explaining that their hope is to help impart that bond in a culture where soccer may not play as prominent a role in the lives of children as it does back home.
"We want children to attend camp and first and foremost continue with soccer," he said.
In addition to helping children cultivate their soccer skills through "a delicate blend of fun and learning," the coaches also aim to help them grow as people and focuses on promoting "respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, integrity and leadership."
The children also engage in the cultural aspect of the camp. After breaking up into World Cup teams at the start of the week, they learn about their countries, decorate flags and soccer balls and even dress up themselves and the coaches for a Challenger World Cup closing ceremony.
"You put that all together and the experience and the degree of engagement that they get is phenomenally high," said Shields.
At the end of the day, the coaches also get a rewarding experience from the camp.
"It's great for us. We're like mini-celebrities, and they'll write us thank you cards and say I want photos, I want a ball signed," said Shields. "All you have to do is look around and see the smiles on the children's faces to know the job that we do."