There was a British invasion in Brainerd this past week.
But instead of a new music group hitting American soil, the Challenger Sports British Soccer Camp came to town Monday through Friday.
It was actually the fourth year that Brainerd has hosted the British soccer camp. There are about 1,200 British soccer camps that take place in the summer throughout the United States with about 55,000 soccer players participating. British soccer camps employ 400 coaches.
Six coaches were on hand at the Brainerd camp, headed by camp director Graeme Hart of Lancashire, England. Joining him were Emma Davies, Neath, Wales; Mark Smethers, Bristol, England; Ross MacTavish, Lanark, Scotland; Rod Needham, Woking, England; Stuart McLaughlan, Scotland.
The camp was broken into two groups, younger players and competitive players. With the younger players, coaches used games to teach. Coaches used drills and scrimmages with the competitive players.
"We have different levels of coaches that work with the younger kids," said Hart, "and coaches like myself that primarily coach competitive players and teams."
Hart, 30, played for Southampton University until a hip injury ended his playing career. He currently coaches U6, U7, U10 and U12 teams at his alma mater.
He first went to London and worked as a foreign exchange trader for six years. But that wasn't his passion.
"I decided that I really didn't want to do that anymore," Hart said of being an exchange trader. "I wanted to do something that I had a passion for and I wanted to get involved in sports."
He's been coaching ever since and wants to get into the sports management field.
With the British soccer camps, Hart and his coaches work closely with area high school coaches about appropriate drills.
"Coaches might want us to work on particular aspects of things," said Hart. "Things like finishing and shooting, high pressure defense or work on team play."
Having a number of coaches and their various coaching backgrounds on hand helps Hart and his staff provide the optimal learning experience for the players.
"We learn off each other all the time and there are different personalities," Hart said of his coaches. "Some coaches are great with the young ones. I have six coaches out here that I have to decide who should coach which level of kids."
Hart and his coaches' priority is to make sure that all the kids, young and competitive, have fun.
"Fun is important especially with the competitive players and teams," Hart said. "You have to have some enjoyment out here. We want them to think a little bit and not just go out and do drills."
Hart also pointed out the difference between American soccer playing youth and their counterparts in Europe.
"I see some very good basic fundamental skills," Hart said. "Probably the boys here are a year or two behind the same age boys over in England. We don't really have girls soccer in England so the girls here are much better.
"In Europe, they watch soccer 24 hours a day. Here, I don't think they watch enough soccer to see the off-ball movement and the movement into open space. They need more exposure of high level of European soccer."
Hart also wants to see the American players he coaches shoot and score more. And to use their heads in more than one way.
"I've found that they don't shoot enough over here," said Hart. "Goal scoring is a problem and they don't head the ball enough. I want them to play with their head up a little more and see more options. I'm trying to get them to use their heads more and think about the game."
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