August 2, 2009 12:39:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
CALEDONIA -- Andi Franklin and Michael Eade hope their work as soccer ambassadors helps the United States produce World Cup caliber talent.
Franklin and Eade joined Matthew Foster and Rachel Smythe in Caledonia last week as coaches with the Challenger Sports British Soccer Camp.
The inaugural camp in Caledonia attracted 73 kids of all ages.
Franklin mainly worked with players ages 8-12 years old.
"We teach them the basics and the fundamentals," Franklin said. "They have picked up things real quick. You have to teach them because soccer is quite a new sport in America. You have to teach them the basics first and then build on that."
Franklin, 19, worked at camps in Vicksburg and Pascagoula prior to arriving in Caledonia. He said he next will go to Kentucky.
Camps begin throughout the U.S. late in May and run through the end of August. He said he is enjoying his second year as a coach with the program. Last year he worked camps in Maryland.
He said working at soccer camps in the U.S. is different from working camps in England because the majority of kids here don''t grow up with a soccer ball at their feet.
Instead, most kids in the U.S. gravitate toward football, basketball, baseball, and countless others play other sports, unlike in England where Franklin said the majority of kids start touching a ball when they are 2 or 3 years old.
Franklin said the coaches in the Challenger camps try to get around the different in experience levels by using a lot of indirect learning. He said players in the camps will participate in games and drills and receive instruction at the same time. He said the kids'' ability to have fun while they''re learning helps them pick things up even faster.
"We use things that they can relate to," Franklin said. "When you pass the ball, I always say, ''Imagine it''s Mickey Mouse''s head, so you stand on his ear and kick him in the nose.'' "
Franklin played last season on the semi-pro level with a club team. He said he would like to return to the U.S. next season to work the Challenger camps again.
Members of Challenger''s British Soccer coaching staff is recruited and trained exclusively to work in the USA. Each coach holds a Football Association coaching qualification from Great Britain and attends three additional Challenger interview and training days.
The FA was founded in 1863 as the governing body of the game in England. The FA is responsible for all regulatory aspects of the game of football, or soccer as it is called in the U.S., in England.
Franklin said he has seen the sport grow in the U.S., but he knows it has a ways to go.
The setting at the Ola J. Pickett Park fields provided a perfect example.
"You have a few decent fields and it is set next to a big baseball field with flood lights," Franklin said. "It is different, but it will get there."
Eade, who will return to Park University in Parkville, Mo., after he is finished coaching with the camps to play goalkeeper for the NAIA Pirates.
Eade worked 10 camps last year and will work nine this year. He worked in the Midwest last summer.
This year, he has worked in Kentucky, Georgia, and Mississippi.
"It is a very interesting experience and you get to see America," Eade said. "It is nice to see the different abilities of the kids."
Eade played soccer at home but didn''t receive a professional contract. He said he wanted to get involved in coaching to give back to soccer to help the game grow.
"If you can help them become better than you are it will help them open their minds to the game and see where they can go with it," Eade said. "The kids here are very good and their desire for the game is very good. There is a lot of natural talent, and a few of them have a lot of potential. Hopefully we will see them playing college soccer and on TV one day."
Eade agreed with Franklin in that soccer in England dwarfs the sports popularity in the U.S. Still, he said with time kids in America can make inroads and help their country improve.
The fact that he, Franklin, Smythe and Foster were teaching soccer for a week in three cities in Mississippi shows how far the sport has come.
"If you think where we are now -- Caledonia -- and it is a small town and we have 73 kids in the camp it shows soccer is growing," Eade said. "Ten to 15 years ago people would say you probably wouldn''t have gotten a soccer camp here that is this big. I have seen a lot of kids play soccer in America, there are just so many sports to rival it, but it is getting bigger."
Said Franklin, "It will come. The more we do this and the more camps we do, the more people we can get interested in soccer. Eventually soccer will be the No. 1 sport in America, too."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.