By Julia Jones, Correspondent
They shoot, and thanks to a week of hard work and a team of volunteers, they score.
Challenger Sports, a company dedicated to refining the skills of soccer players across the U.S. and Canada, teamed up with FC Belton to provide a week-long soccer camp run by soccer players from the UK two weeks ago in Heritage Park. Ages three to 16 were welcome to attend to work on a wide range of skills, ending each day with a mock World Cup. Challenger Sports Regional Director Miles Palmer explained what is at the heart of the camp.
“All we do in the UK is play soccer, whereas over here they’ve obviously got more options,” Palmer said. “To come out here and be able to show the youth of America the soccer program in general and also develop their confidence on and off the field is one of the big things for us.”
This is the first year that Challenger Sports has come to assist FC Belton, and according to FC Belton Executive Director Chance Vanderveer, it has been an incredible help.
“It’s a huge daunting task run by all volunteers,” Vanderveer said. “For them to come along and actually offer this service to us, it takes away a lot of our stress.”
Those running the camp kept it interesting by playing creative new games–one involving the chant “I’m a banana, help me!”–and truly challenging the kids to better their playing abilities. Camp Director Shearnan McCay emphasized the visible positive impact on the kids, from better soccer skills to smiles.
“The kids have been doing great,” McCay said. “Everyone’s enjoying it, [there are] smiles on their faces when they’re coming and leaving. They don’t want to leave sometimes.”
This camp is an effort to build up Belton’s soccer program during the off-season so that the camp participants have an advantage over their opponents. Challenger Sports also has a coach training program for beginner coaches or coaches that would like to improve. One such coach, Bryan Roberts, commented on the ability the Challenger Sports employees have to connect with the kids they teach.
“These guys do an excellent job,” Roberts said. “As a coach for little kids, I’m learning so much from them just on how to interact with the younger kids. It’s unbelievable.”
Building soccer skills isn’t the camp’s only focus–learning about other cultures is one of the reasons it includes a mock World Cup. Players are assigned a country at the beginning of the week and do research on that country so that they can wear its colors and know its flag and famous soccer players. Miles Palmer explained the point system for the camp.
“They get points for things like sportsmanship, leadership, responsibility, integrity, and respect,” Palmer said. “Those are kind of our champions of character.”
FC Belton has many opportunities for all children, including a special-needs team during the regular spring and fall seasons. They are the largest non-profit sports organization in Belton and are always looking for volunteers. Sign ups for the fall season end July 1.