An enthusiastic group of local youth soccer players spent the week on the pitch sharpening their goal-scoring abilities and absorbing information about international cultures during the Challenger Sports British Soccer Camp at the Calhoun Recreation Department.

Challenger Sports hosts over 3,000 soccer camps across North America, which reach over 200,000 young athletes every summer. The British Soccer Camps implement a curriculum that helps athletes of all ages and abilities improve their skills, speed and confidence while instilling a deeper passion for the game.

The camps are all led by international soccer experts, who are put through a rigorous recruiting process that only chooses the most talented and enthusiastic individuals. Calhoun’s camp was guided by Camp Director Ismat Ayed and coaches Joe Toplass and Sam Gee, who were all excited to have the opportunity to share the game they love with campers.

“To see the progress of the campers from Monday to Friday is always so rewarding for us,” Ayed said. “We just try to increase their confidence and teach them transferable skills that they can apply on the field, in school and in their social lives. That is why we come halfway around the world.”

The Calhoun version of the camp included athletes ranging in ages from 3-18. Half-day instruction included technical sessions, offensive and defensive drills and World Cup scrimmages. Those scrimmages involved campers splitting up into teams, choosing an international country to represent and gaining points through scoring goals and displaying an understanding of the Champions of Character.

The Champions of Character, which are integrity, sportsmanship, responsibility, leadership and respect, represent one of the main points of emphasis of the camp. On Friday, the two teams that have gathered the most overall points competed in the World Cup final for a chance to touch the World Cup trophy.

“The aim of the World Cup games are to show the kids how to not only become better players, but to play the game the right way,” Ayed said. “It is nice to score goals and win games, but we really want to reward them for understanding how important it is to show good character on the field.”

There was also the option of a full-day camp that further honed in on technical skills and included a Champion’s League competition that is similar to the World Cup.

While improving upon the skills and character of each athlete is crucial, British Soccer Camp focuses on providing a unique cultural and educational experience as well. During the World Cup, athletes are tasked with decorating a ball with their assigned country’s flag, wearing their country’s colors and learning facts about the culture of the country they are representing.

During break times instructors also spend time asking questions and playing games that teach campers about the results of major international tournaments and inform them on the world’s elite players.

“Soccer is such an international game, so it is really great to see kids leave camp with knowledge and enthusiasm about other cultures,” Ayed said.

The camp is currently scheduled to take place again next summer at the Calhoun Recreation Department. For more information, visit challengersports.com.