Story by Angie Thorne on 08/01/2019By ANGIETHORNE
Guardian staff writer
FORT POLK, La. A group of Fort Polk youth spent July 22-26 at Challenger International Soccer Camp learning how to keep control of a soccer ball while running by tapping, dragging or rolling it, using the head to pass, shoot, block or otherwise control the ball, make a pass with backspin and more. The camp took place at Fort Polk's Perez Field.
Helen Smith, Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Child and Youth Services program associate, said the kids loved every minute of their time spent on the field.
"The camp offers them the chance to learn and perfect more soccer skills than we can teach them," she said.
Smith said skills are taught by talented instructors Aaron O'Dowd, of Dublin, Ireland, and Tom Ashton, of Manchester, England who have played soccer all their lives and are trained to teach campers the soccer skills they need to succeed.
"Aaron and Tom are awesome, energetic and work well with the kids. They entertain them almost as much as they teach them," she said.
O'Dowd said he and Ashton trained with Challenger Sports to become instructors and will travel to different states teaching soccer camps.
O'Dowd said he obviously has a passion for soccer.
"When the opportunity to come to the United States to teach the sport I love presented itself, I jumped at the chance. I also wanted to observe the culture on this side of the world," he said.
O'Dowd said he is excited about his experience so far.
"I've done camps in Texas and this is my first in Louisiana. Though it's been really hot, I've loved the weather. Coming from Ireland, I appreciate the sunshine every day. It's been perfect for playing soccer," he said.
It is definitely a culture shock when you first get here, said Ashton.
"The thing I've enjoyed most is getting to meet all the different people and enjoying the scenery," he said.
As far as Louisiana food is concerned, Ashton said jambalaya was his favorite.
"It was so nice," he said.
O'Dowd said he enjoyed every food he tried.
"It's hard to pick one thing because it's all so good," he said.
As for teaching soccer, O'Dowd said the Fort Polk kids are enthusiastic about coming to camp.
"They have so much energy and it's fun. This could be their first experience playing soccer and if they enjoy it, they may sign up to play on a team. A camp like this can spark an interest in a sport for a beginner," he said. "More experienced campers are developing new skills and honing the ones they already have."
Ashton said he enjoyed watching the campers develop their soccer skills.
"They have gotten more confident in themselves," he said
Ashton said he also thought being military kids made a difference as well.
"They were more mature than our average camper. They were always well behaved and respectful," he said. "It's been a pleasure teaching them."
A soccer league veteran, Jacob Webber, 11, said he attended camp because he loves soccer and it gives him a chance to practice his moves.
"I've learned a lot of new tricks for the upcoming season that I want to try," he said.
First-time camp attendee, Grace Strzelecki, 10, said she loves soccer and wanted to see what camp was like.
"I'm really good at it, but I want to get better. The scrimmage drills helped me learn some new skills.
Rosie Tritten, 8, said she played soccer for the first time last year and liked it so she wanted to attend camp and learn more. Tritten said she learned a lot, but loved the "just for fun" parts of camp too. "It was funny when we were all trying to learn how to balance the ball on the back of our necks," she said.
All the campers said they enjoyed the fun games they played in between scrimmages and drills.