One of the NWT’s fastest growing sports stands to get a major kick this summer as some of the best British soccer coaches travel the territory for a series of soccer camps.
The Challenger British Soccer Camp starts its northern tour with a week in Fort Smith from July 4-8, before heading to Hay River, Fort Simpson and Yellowknife.
The Fort Smith camp marks the first time Challenger has brought its wildly successful program to any of Canada’s territories, after spreading across British Columbia and Alberta over the last two years.
“We’re really excited to be spreading out and looking to new communities where soccer is growing,” said Richard Unsworth, a regional director with Challenger. “When we were interviewing potential coaches in the UK, a lot of them expressed interest in going to the Northwest Territories because it’s not somewhere many of them ever thought they would get to visit.”
The camps are open to young people aged three years-old to teenagers.
Unsworth said the focus will be on skills development and transferring skills into game situations. There will also be a world cup tournament during the week, where players at the camp are split into teams to play off for the trophy.
While learning soccer skills is paramount, the Challenger coaches also emphasize leadership skills, respect and discipline, Unsworth said.
NWT Soccer Association sport consultant Melanie Kornacki said that soccer in the NWT has nearly surpassed hockey as the most popular sport for young people.
Much of that growth is centered in Yellowknife, where there are youth and adult recreation leagues, but Kornacki said communities like Fort Smith and even smaller communities like Fort McPherson are producing very talented soccer players that have made territorial teams in the past few years.
“We’re growing each year,” Kornacki said, adding that the Challenger programs are great opportunities for kids in the territory to experience a high level of coaching and build their skills.
Challenger has held British soccer camps across the USA and Canada. The company also offers a Brazilian-style football camp.
Tommy Philips, Fort Smith’s director of recreation services, previously worked with Challenger in Alberta. He said the camps come ready-made, a good thing for small communities with minimal resources, and very professional in their approach to soccer development.
“The people they brought in were super, especially with the young kids,” Philips said. “There are lots of kids with ability in the NWT, who would do well from having this kind of instruction.”
Philips added that he hopes the camps will jump start a full-fledged soccer program in Fort Smith.
He plans to start short coaching sessions during the summer, with the intent of having coaching certificate clinics in 2012 and a recreational youth league soon after that.
In the long term, Philips said he would like to see a facility combined with an arena where kids could play soccer on a full-sized field indoors.
The Challenger camp costs between $82 to $129 for the week, depending on the age of the players. If registration is done before May 20, the player receives a free British soccer jersey.