By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
EAST RIVER —
Soccer is a growing sport in the United States. In England, Manchester United is the most successful team in the Premier League, akin to the New York Yankees in American baseball. Young and old alike follow the United and one such fan happens to be Johnny Drake, who grew up in Manchester and is now in the United States teaching the game’s fundamentals to American youth.
“Soccer was a big influence growing up because that’s all it is in Manchester, just soccer, or football as we call it,” Drake said. “I’ve been playing soccer since I was six years old. I’m 21 now.”
Drake is camp director of the British Soccer Camp underway this week at the East River Soccer Complex. He is one of four coaches from the United Kingdom traveling America this summer with Challenge Sports, conducting week-long camps to kids 4-14 years old.
“We teach them five different characteristics every day, which are Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Leadership and Sportsmanship. We reinforce that every day,” Drake said. “We do a World Cup. We give the kids a different team and then we give them homework each day to find out stuff about their team, like different facts and different things. It’s not just soccer, it’s educational as well, so they’re finding out different things all the time.”
While the camp also strengthens the IQ of those attending, there is a great amount of time spent on the pitch, learning and improving skills.
“We do a different thing every day. Monday is working on passing. Tuesday, working on dribbling. Wednesday, shooting. Thursday is heading and volleying, and Friday is defending. They learn all parts of soccer,” Drake pointed out. “Some people have never played soccer before, so they’ll get a taste of every skill that they will need.”
A total of 62 boys and girls from around the region are at the camp, which has morning and afternoon sessions, and a goalkeeper session. Drake got involved with the camp thanks to his friends.
“A couple of buddies of mine worked for Challenger a couple of years ago and that said it was the best thing ever. They said, ‘You’ve got to do it,’ so I did it last year,” Drake said. “I worked in Georgia last year. This year we’re working out of Charlotte in North Carolina. We move around every single week. This week we’re in West Virginia. Next week, we don’t know where we’ll be yet, we find out every Thursday.”
Drake said the travel allows him and his colleagues to meet a lot of new people and share their knowledge of the game.
“It’s great because we stay with a different family every seek. We might have two or three families, but this week we’ve just got one family, the Knowles. They are hosting all four of us. There are four coaches doing this and we’re all in the same house. It’s great to meet new people and live with them for a week.”
The quartet is in the United States for a couple of summer months and they have a few weeks left in this year’s assignment.
“It’s a summer contract for nine weeks and this is week six,” Drake said. “After this week I’ve got week seven, eight and nine left and fly back to England and then I’ve got a coaching job over there. I just finished college doing sports coaching, so it’s a perfect summer job for me.”
This is the furthest North that Challenger has conducted camps and Drake said he sees a difference in the sport the further North one comes.
“I’ve mainly been down in the south, this is quite far North for me, which is probably the furthest North I’ve been. I think the further North you go, the more they are into soccer. I think further down South, they don’t really like it. There are a lot of first-timers. We’ve been in Virginia for two weeks and now in West Virginia and there’s a lot of players who have played for quite a few years, so I think it’s a bit bigger up North.”
As far as the campers, Drake said he believes they are having fun and there is one thing he would like for each camper to take with them as the camp ends.
“They’re having a great time,” Drake observed. “For some of them they’ve played before, so they know what they’re doing. But some of the kids are just now playing soccer, so it’s good to mix in the experienced kids. They’re having a great time.
“I want them to have just a good memory of the week so hopefully they will sign up again next year, have a great time and they keep playing soccer. Hopefully I’ll come back to West Virginia next year and I’ll see them again.”
— Contact Bob Redd at