Here in the States, soccer is part of a pastime, one sport of many for kids to chose from as they grow into adulthood.
Over in England, however, soccer is a way of life according to Challenger Soccer camp instructors James Wilcock and Calum Wilson said.
“It’s a different feel back home. People are into it 24-7 there. It’s massive. It’s more of a lifestyle than a game,” Wilcock said. “Nine months of the year, soccer is on TV. You play it, you train in it and you practice it. The attitude in the U.S. is different. Here, if you want to go skiing, you go skiing and if you want to go to the beach, you go to the coast. It’s a different culture.”
Wilson said that’s part of the reason he’s been here with Challenger in Morris for the last two weeks.
“Soccer has been a big part of my life so far. I’ve been playing the game since I was two or three, I’m here to try and teach a few people and bring to them some of the things I have learned since I was younger,” he said. “That and getting to have the experience of working with kids.”
The Challenger Camp is held annually at White Oak Elementary School and is for kids of all ages. Each year, college-aged kids in England line up for the chance to make the trip to the U.S. to teach soccer to Americans.
“I went to recruitment day where we show our coaching,” Wilson said. “Then out of a group of about 50 on my recruitment day, I think 25 got offered a shot to work this here.”
Wilcock said that he is studying Sports Development at the University of Central Lancashire and that he was influenced into wanting to work for Challenger at an early age.
“Me older sister did it. She was based in Kansas for two years and as soon as I was 18 and old enough, I came over,” he said.
Wilcock said that his first tour this summer started on the Eastern seaboard.
“This year I started off in Massachusetts and worked there for about three weeks, then went to Rhode Island and finished in New England. I then flew in and this is my first week in the Chicagoland area,” he said. “It’s my first time in the midwest, in Illinois and I’ve loved it. This region covers Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. I’ll be here (in the region) until Oct. 7, that’s when I fly home. That’s when I go back to the university at home.”
Wilcock was working with the youngest kids group midweek. He said that working essential motor skills is the key to teaching the younger ones.
“The little kids, the small kids, we like to teach them the ABC — it’s what we call it back home. It’s agility, balance and coordination,” he said. “We’re trying to work that with a lot of drills like hopping, jumping and skipping to get the athletic movements down.
“They are still learning. Some of them are as small as three. That means some of them may have only been walking for two years, which is one third of life. So, can we get in all of the ABCs and athletic movements for them. The ball really is just a foreign object at their feet.”
On Wednesday, Wilson had the older group. He said that coaching up older kids is a lot different.
“It’s about keeping them interested. You want to try and do things that will let you focus on each individual kid. We want them to find things to build on for themselves,” Wilson said. “The technical ability and range is a lot different. Some kids are out here for soccer for the first time and some of the kids out here have been playing the game for six or seven years. It’s a matter of trying to find their stage of development and keeping it interesting.”
Interesting for both players and the coaches.
“Challenger shoes is the biggest soccer company in North America and they have a lot coaches. Some who specialize in the younger ones and others the older ones and some are mixed,” Wilcox said. “Obviously, I coach the younger ones and the older ones back home. It depends, it’s a great experience for the coaches.”