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Youth Boys Aug 18, 2015

Arsenal Soccer Schools bring Premier League philosophy to D.C.

One hundred kids, ranging in age from 7 to 16, poured into Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School on the morning of July 13 in lieu of five-day soccer camp courtesy of a prestigious English Premier League club.

For the first time, Arsenal brought its soccer school day camp  to Washington D.C., vying to communicate its style of play to America’s youth.

“The idea for us was to recognize the increasing number of players and kids who enjoy soccer in the United States, and give them something different,” said David Evans, the director of Arsenal Soccer Schools North America. “We give them an opportunity to get that methodology from one of the top clubs in the world and bring it into their own community and their own backyard.”

After passing on Washington D.C. as a destination for its inaugural day camps last summer, Arsenal added the nation’s capital this year thanks to its talented player pool — both at the youth and collegiate level — and its cultured fan base, which Evans said has a broad understanding of European football. One of Arsenal’s own first team midfielders, Gedion Zelalem, signed with Arsenal’s youth academy early in 2013 after being recruited playing for Maryland club side Olney Rangers and attending Walter Johnson High School in Montgomery County.

Plus, the day camp filled a rare void in the D.C. market.

“We wanted to give exposure to the Arsenal methodology,” Evans said. “There are a lot of different camps out there, but there was nothing that was bringing a premiership team to the D.C. area.”

The camp ran Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and each day the players focused on a different skill, including passing, dribbling, shooting or moving to an open area on the field. Prior to the campers’ arrival, the coaches determined which drills were appropriate for that day.

At first, coaches separated players into groups based on age — Evans said the most common age group was 8, 9, 10 and 11 year-olds, and 80 percent of the camp was male. As the week progressed, however, campers split into groups based on ability.

Each session on a particular day built on the previous one, something Evans believes was important in terms of player development. After honing in on a specific trade in the first two exercises, players had a chance to showcase what they learned that afternoon in scrimmages.

“Nothing is dumbed down,” Evans said. “Five days, five different modules, and those are very much based on what we do at not just the first team, but the youth teams at Arsenal.”

Another aspect of the camp Evans stressed was how each player had signed up individually.

In the past, Evans said professional clubs paired with local American clubs, limiting the event to those within the organization. This camp, on the other hand, allowed players from the D.C. area to register and test their ability against unfamiliar competition.

“You can be an 11-year-old going to school in Washington D.C., you’re at a visitation camp, and you’re trying your skills against kids from all over the D.C. area,” Evans said. “It’s more fun for the kids if they’re trying their skills against a completely new population of players as opposed to playing with people their playing with week in and week out.”

Evans labeled this year’s event a success, explaining that, “to get 100 kids in year one in D.C. with very little local advertising was very encouraging.”

The camp also set down at Norwood School in Bethesda, Maryland, from July 20 – 24, and Evans said the camp filled up there too despite being about 15 minutes away from Georgetown Visitation.

Only two years in, Evan believes this nationwide camp will continue to draw more youth players to Washington D.C. and other locations in the future.

“There are a lot of great soccer camps out there, but it’s the first time that a premiership club has come to the U.S. and really given American kids access to that methodology, and it’s been very successful,” Evans said. “It’s been a fantastic summer.”

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