YMCA hosts British players for soccer workshops

Published 9:56 am Saturday, June 20, 2009

FRANKLIN—The British have invaded again, but this time they haven’t come with mop-top hairstyles and guitars.

They’ve come with soccer balls.

Two young men from the United Kingdom, Craig Alston and Phil Lowe, have been working with kids for a weeklong soccer camp at the James L. Camp Jr. YMCA in Franklin.

The pair is sponsored through the Baltimore office of Challenger Sports Inc. and will be traveling through August around the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. teaching kids soccer skills.

“It’s been great working with the kids,” Alston said. “It’s a hundred times better over here. In England it’s more like being a teacher. The first (camp) was with the younger ones, 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. There were a few tears the first day. I think some of them were leaving their moms for the first time and it was a bit difficult for them. But they’ve loved it since.”

One class with the young soccer players had them dribbling the ball up behind Alston, who would tell them what time it was — for example, “3 o’clock” — and the kids would kick the ball three times toward Alston. But when the kids got close, the answer became “supper time” and they would turn and run the other way.

It is the first trip stateside for the 20-year-old Alston, a native of Durham.

Meanwhile, Lowe — who is 21 and hails from Chesterfield in Derbyshire — works with a class of slightly older children, having them kick around obstacles and stay within the limits of a box on the playing field behind the YMCA.

“I like it,” said 7-year-old Chloe Worrell of Newsoms, who was playing with Lowe at the time. She said she likes playing center and goalie the best.

Nearby, 7-year-old Winston Brown said he liked learning “how to head butt.”

So how do American kids compare to British ones at soccer?

“The younger ones are definitely on par because that’s when they’re starting,” Alston said. “The younger ones seem more keen, and they don’t get as distracted. I think as you get up slightly in the ages, our older ones are slightly better because they do it more regular.”

Lowe concurred, adding “the guys at about 10, are about as good as the guys at 5 in England, just because of the amount they play. In England, you grow up with a soccer ball at your feet.”

He added, “If you drive down the road (in the U.S.) you can see basketball hoops outside of everybody’s drive. If you did that in England there would be a soccer net. That’s just the culture. People grow up with soccer there.”

But no worries — we’re getting better at the sport.

“There’s no reason why America won’t get to the same (level) because everyone is competitive and interested in all sports,” Alston said. “If it keeps developing how it is, maybe America will be one of the best teams in the world in 10 to 15 years.”

Said Lowe: “Everybody (around the world) plays soccer. Hopefully it will get that way here (in the U.S.). I can see in 20 years time America becoming the best team in the world. I think if soccer takes off here, you’ll probably get to be the best team in the world, just because of the amount of people playing.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do, come over here and make (soccer) big,” Lowe said. “Make the soccer stars of tomorrow. There are some really good players here. Hopefully they’ll keep it up and keep playing and get a lot better.”

Who are the best players?

“The girls are a lot better than the boys,” Lowe said. “The girls are pretty good. I don’t know why, I haven’t been here long enough to figure out why. Maybe because the boys have a lot of choice — they’ve got football, baseball, and basketball — whereas the girls have softball and soccer. It’s more of a girls’ sport in America and I think that helps. They’ve got role models. Women’s soccer is quite big.”

Mike and Kelley Phillips have been putting up the coaches from “across the pond” during their stay in Franklin.

“They’ve been amazing,” Alston said of their hosts. “Our stay here has been great. You can’t ask for anything better. They’ve taken us out, and we’ve done all sorts of fun things.”