Soccer Camp
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Soccer Camp--History
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"Soccer camps" are an American phenomenon. They began as a type of summer vacation experience to improve the skills of recreational or "travel" team players. Camps were also started by high school and college coaches to identify and develop potential players, but also for coaches to earn a little extra money during summer. In recent years, soccer arenas, Adidas, Nike, and MLS have invested in  integrated player development systems. Rather than a soccer "camp" experience based on the idea of free play, these "academies" are more like the soccer schools associated with European football clubs. For various reasons, the academy concept is growing in popularity. Nevertheless, they owe their existence to the coaches and camps that have been able to combine fun and skill improvement to make playing soccer an enjoyable experience.

It took a while for the soccer camp boom to catch fire.

Two of the oldest camps are the Soccer Academy, Santa Barbara, CA, founded by head coaches at U.C.L.A. and U.C.S.B. in 1973 (www.thesocceracademy.com) and Star Academy, founded by Skip Roderick, head coach Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA (717-560-9030).

On the East Coast, Skip claims to have influenced other folks, such as Larry Boff (www.coerver-coaching.com/world.htm) and Robbie Stahl, associated with Ohio State Youth Soccer, who once ran the Goal-to-Goal clinics. According to Roderick, Hubert Vogelsinger once observed Robbie conducting a finishing clinic that the former German player praised as the "best I've ever seen." Years earlier, Vogelsinger had launched his Vogelsinger tape series and Vogelsinger Soccer Academy, which has now evolved into the Nike Vogelsinger Soccer Academy.

Also on the East Coast, Walter Chyzowych founded, organized and promoted the first nationwide soccer coaching education program. In 1975, he accepted the then new position with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) of director of coaching. In so doing, he helped developed college, USSF, and camp coaches, such as John Kowalski and Joe Machnik.

He founded along with Dr. Leonard Lucenko, the All American Soccer Camp in 1968, claiming the title "America's Original Soccer Camp." This camp's residency program merged with Joe Machnik's No. 1 Camps in the summer of 2000.

Mr. Chyzowych was born in Ukraine and moved to Philadelphia with his family when he was 12. He starred for the Philadelphia Tryzub Ukrainian Nationals powerhouse in the American Soccer League in the 1960s and played for other Ukrainian clubs, including Toronto Ukraina, Newark Sitch, New York USC and Chicago Lions. He died in 1994 at the age of 57.  Walt's Fund (www.waltsfund.com, non-working site) was established  to provide USSF Coaching School and other scholarships to aspiring coaches and players. Contributions to the foundation are welcome. They may be sent to: WCMF, 1421 Dorel Road, Rydel, PA 19046. (See http://www.ukrweekly.com/Archive/1997/129710.shtml)

Some U.S. camps call themselves a "school" or "academy", but they aren't in the European sense. In Europe, soccer is big business. So, for example, the Ajax youth training programme is a full-day, year-long academic and soccer school that can be attended by invitation only (www.ajax.nl).

International influence is playing a greater role in shaping U.S. soccer camps. In England, many large clubs run youth training academies by invitation. Picking up on the success of U.S. camps, European clubs began offering general "soccer schools," such as Manchester United's Soccer School (www.manutdsoccerschools.com) launched in 1999 and brought to the U.S. in 2003. Also, various international clubs offer programs that invite U.S. players. Soccer Camps International provides an easy way to hook up with these programs, such as the AC Milan Junior Camp. But there are also opportunities beyond Europe. The Tahuichi Soccer Academy founded in 1978 in Bolivia has extended its methods to U.S. players through the Tahuichi Way Youth Soccer Camp.

The Development Academy is the USSF's latest attempt to improve player training. Alliances are formed with qualified clubs that follow the Best Practices used by the U-17 U.S. National Team Residency Program.

Full time, professional-level U.S. youth instruction is available at the IMG Soccer Academy in Bradenton, FL.

In general, the emphasis on fun and skills provided by U.S. soccer camps is a happy combination.

It's a low-pressure, mentor-peer, uncle-nephew neighborhood experience. This environment encourages developing players not only to play the game, but to love the sport. This attitude, absent in most parent- and coach-driven programs, is the key to arresting the tremendous U.S. player drop out starting at age 12.

Not surprisingly, this neighborhood-family environment is often best created by "old guys" who grew up with the game in their neighborhoods.

As long as soccer camps provide a relationship-based and not just a performance-based soccer experience, they remain part of the solution for U.S. soccer.