Same old formula doesn't get old at St. Francis Summer Soccer Camp

LA CAÑADA — Its three-pronged formula for teaching the game of soccer certainly wasn’t new, but also wasn’t close to getting old in the St. Francis Summer Soccer Camp’s 24th year.

A group of about 45 campers tested their knowledge and skill not only on the soccer pitch, but in the classroom and gym at the weeklong clinic. It was hosted by director and Golden Knights Coach Glen Appels on St. Francis’ campus from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The approach was effective for the diverse group, which ranged from boys and girls 8 to 18 years old and from beginners to players on Appels’ varsity squad.

“We have guys here that are going to wind up playing college soccer and we have kids here — this is their first experience with soccer,” Appels said of the difference in levels of experience. “We try to tailor [the camp] to the individuals.”

While the St. Francis Summer Soccer Camp has mostly stayed true to form over the past 24 years, one new thing Appels has implemented over the past four years is something not often seen at other high school camps. That’s the inclusion of coaches from other programs.

In addition to two assistant coaches on the St. Francis staff, Appels invited respective Crescenta Valley High boys’ and girls’ soccer coaches Grant Clark and Jorden Schulz to lead the younger group for the second year in a row. Pasadena Poly boys’ Coach Doug Jolly lent a helping hand to the older players for the first time.

Each day, the two groups — divided by age and level of play — took to Friedman Field to drill on a specific skill set for two hours. At 11 a.m., the groups split with one heading to the gym and another to the classroom.

“Up in the gym, it’s a lot faster pace so you have to work on your thinking ability, how fast you see the pass and then the quickness of your feet,” said Jason Carmody, a second-year camper and returning junior right back for the Golden Knights. “In the classroom, we look at old footage from games, go over it and fill out pieces of paper. It describes the game and it helps us learn.”

In class, campers were treated to a film session or history lesson on the beautiful game.

“I think a lot of the kids play and they don’t have a lot of background tactics, or even history of the game,” said Appels, who dissected footage of recent World Cup games to get the more experienced campers in a tactical frame of mind. “Some of them don’t know who Johan Cruyff, [Diego] Maradona, Pelé are, so it’s good for them to get a little background.

“We really like the learning aspect, we think a camp should be fun but it also should be where you learn a little bit about the sport. We’re teachers here, so we try to incorporate a little teaching as part of the camp.”

While the classroom is one of Clark’s favorite parts of the camp, it takes a back seat to the indoor games, with that hour being favored by most in attendance.

As Carmody noted, the challenge and appeal of the indoor confines is the up-tempo play. Without any out of bounds, the ball is always in play and leads to more touches for everyone involved.

Eleven-year old and second-year camper Natalie St. Hippolyte relished those frenzied moments, quickly listing the five hours in the gym as her favorite parts of the week.

“In the gym, it’s way different than the field,” said Hippolyte, a Paradise Canyon Elementary student and Pasadena resident. “You’re playing indoor, you’re playing with more footwork and doing more moves. You’ve learned those moves in the gym and then you’re on the field doing those moves later.”

With new skills and knowledge set in place early on, campers took part in tournament play Friday to end the week. Four fields were created with big and small goals for mostly seven-on-seven games. Both age groups were combined for the competitions.

After each game, players were rotated and mixed in with other teams. Adding incentive to mix the youngsters into the action is the fact their goals were much more valuable, counting for three tallies.

“So you’ll see an 18 year old, really competitive guy beat two people on the dribble and then roll the ball for a little girl to finish,” Appels laughed, “and they are thrilled to play with the big kids.”

Following an indoor tournament later in the day, the one person who walked off the field with the most wins receives a take-home prize.

“It’s the culmination of the week,” Clark said. “It’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s a good final step to the week, it leaves a good taste in their mouths about the camp.”

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