Let them play.
“There’s not really any big secret,” Watterson said. “It’s kind of cool in that we try to capture the spirit of every group we work with and keep the pressure off of them. But really we just give kids a lot of opportunities to touch the ball more and experience that.”
As the YMCA Rome Arsenal Soccer Club’s director of camps and recreational soccer, Watterson has gotten to know and coach many kids in Rome and Floyd County. He’s seen the development and growth of the sport expand to the middle school and high school level.
This week’s camp, the first of two five-day sessions for kids age 4-13 scheduled for this summer, is the product of Watterson’s attempts at working to make the sport more inclusive. He said instead of just focusing on the more experienced players or holding camps on specific skills, the current half-day format of the camp is for everyone.
“A majority of the kids might get locked in with playing with kids from the same school or on the same team, so it’s a good experience to play with some kids they might not know,” Watterson said. “And they play a lot of soccer during the week so they get to know them and create a bond with them.”
The social aspect aside, the camp does provide the equivalent of a season’s worth of weekly practices condensed into a week, something that Watterson compares to cramming for a test.
“We talk to them about not just challenging each other but challenging themselves,” he said, adding that they discuss setting personal benchmarks. “But the thing about this camp is it can just be fun.”
Part of the fun of this year’s camp has been having it at the same time of the World Cup. And with an international camp staff, the popular tournament isn’t too far from conversation. The amount of knowledge about it the kids have shown, however, has impressed Watterson.
“The kids know more than we give them credit,” he said, adding a 20-minute talk with one camper this week covered teams’ style and speed of play.
“It’s a very interesting perspective. And the more I talk to these kids I’m amazed at how familiar they are with the technical aspects of the game, and from just coaching a lot of them, how quickly they pick up on it.”
In a World Cup missing the U.S men’s national team, which failed to qualify in this cycle, Watterson said he’s hopeful that the younger generation will help lift soccer through to the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in North America — including right down the road at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I know we’re a much-beleaguered soccer nation, but the generation coming up now … with the knowledge, understanding, and intrigue of game they possess, I can’t see us not being more prosperous (in soccer) going into the future,” Watterson said.
“I know it’s eight years away, but the 14- and 15-year-olds now will be the experienced veterans by then. And I can see them bringing a new breath of life into the sport.”