Campers look to Launch their soccer careers

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Across two multi-purpose fields at Flintridge Intermediate School, Barry Ritson went from one drill station to another.

Ritson's interest peaked while watching 60-70 campers go though a variety of drills during the first day of the inaugural Launch Soccer Camp. In the camp that featured athletes 4-14, players spent nearly 30 minutes perfecting their dribbling skills on the all-grass venue while absorbing all the material.

"Youth soccer is built on reputation and you want to see the kids do well," said Ritson, a native of England who started Launch Soccer in February and will conduct several similar camps through Aug. 17 in Pasadena, Arcadia and Temple City. "I've been involved with camps since 2002 and the people know how I work.

"I want to see these kids and others do well. It's great for them to be out here working hard and trying to get better."

Ritson, who coached the La Cañada High boys' soccer team from 2009-11, and eight assistants worked in groups of 12 and covered basic dribbling skills. The six-hour predominantly recreational camp, which will run through Friday and featured participants from La Crescenta to the San Gabriel Valley, will also focus on shooting and ball control and will have mini scrimmages to measure athletes' progress.

With Euro 2012 in progress and the Summer Olympics set to begin in London in late July, the camp is situated during an ideal time frame with soccer grabbing daily international headlines. That has helped increase interest in local camps like Launch Soccer Camp, as athletes look to maximize their potential.

"People are watching a lot of soccer," said Mathew Bowden, one of Ritson's directors and the head coach of the Flintridge Prep boys' soccer team that advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs last season. "We have a lot of beginners here who are new to the game and some club players.

"You can see them concentrate on one skill and getting better at it. That's the main thing and we want to try to keep this going in which we outline different goals and objectives to have each [camper] meet. At the end of the week, you teach them one skill and you can tell they've learned it."

Pasadena residents Ian Odermatt and Ethan Abel took part in Monday's activities. Both play forward for their respective L.A. Premier club teams.

Odermatt, 11, worked up a sweat after taking part in footwork drills for nearly 20 minutes.

"I'm just here to keep learning because I practice soccer every day," Odermatt said. "It's my favorite sport and it's just a great sport to keep playing."

Abel, 7, said he's attended nearly 20 soccer camps, mostly around the Los Angeles area during the last several years.

Abel said he'd like to have a career that would expand from high school to the professional ranks in soccer.

"It's why I'm here," Abel said. "I know that I have to keep getting better. I want to get better [at the camp] on different things from defense to offense to goalkeeping."

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