Photo Caption: Emma Matheny, 8, of Belpre, participats in the four-day-long "Soccer for Education and Cultural Exchange"
"We're changing the (African) coaching model," said David Carr, soccer camp administrator and OU associate professor of recreation and sport pedagogy. "We're changing it from a technical model to a tactical model. (Africans) teach the skills and hope that the game happens. (Americans) teach the game. It's very different."
The Soccer for Education and Cultural Exchange is a $225,000 grant-funded program that Carr said he has been working on for two years. The program is managed by a team of OU faculty and administrators, according to Carr.
OU's grant also partnered with PLAY SOCCER, a year-round, non-profit international organization committed to teaching an integrated educational curriculum. The program teaches children soccer and social skills, and addresses health topics such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, nutrition, hygiene and clean water, according to the press release.
Participants played soccer and practiced drills from 9-11:30 a.m. every day from Monday through today. The practice fields were split up into four sections based on the players' ages and developmentally appropriateness. Each age group had a different level of experience, Carr said. The continuous drills ranged from practicing shooting to "boss the balls," which is nonstop game of soccer.
The soccer camp was intended to not only teach local youth how to play the game but also connect them with people from other countries. Sibongile Mdluli, 22, from South Africa, said she had a positive experience and learned from the young players.
"I've learned that even you can be on the other side of the world but someone on this side is just like you," Mdluli said. "I thought I was going to find something very different from my side. You think of it like you see it on TV. When you think of USA, you think of New York. It's not like that but it's a nice place."
Carr said the African coaches already knew how to coach one another; the camp's focus was to have them coach the kids. The cultural connection is important for the coaches, children and the soccer camp as a whole.
"I want to see them coach kids. Let's build some cultural links Let's have the Athens kids learn from the African coaches," Carr said.
With all the running kids and flying balls, both groups obviously were learning from one another.
Mdluli said her role as a coach is more than teaching the skills and strategies of soccer she feels a deeper connection to the children.
"I teach the kids everything in general (such as) life skills. I act as a role model to them. I'm a mother, a sister. I'm a friend. I like working with kids," she said.
Emma Matheny, an 8-year-old from Belpre Elementary, said the camp had been fun and she liked that the African coaches were challenging. A soccer player for four years, she said she is now much better at dribbling the ball.
Kelly Erb, 8, also from Belpre Elementary, agreed.
"I don't really dribble so fast but they challenge us and make us dribble faster," Erb said.
Other than teaching the children soccer skills, Erb said she joined the African coaches during their songs and clapping at lunchtime.
Evan Berryman, a 14-year-old Athens High School freshman, admitted that sometimes it was hard to understand the African coaches but said they knew what they were doing and challenged him on the field.
The African coaches from Ghana and South Africa spoke English but there were two translators for those from Senegal, who knew some of the area's native language.
Though this was a onetime program, Carr said the soccer camp can happen again if another grant and funding become available. If there's a next time, Carr said they'll probably incorporate another group of coaches from another country, such as Mexico.
Even though there isn't a soccer camp planned next year, Matheny said she'll definitely attend if the camp exists.
"We really like it here, and we wish we could come back next year and do it again," she said.