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Published: Monday, 7/16/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Soccer camp plans to be fun

Former U.S. Olympian women's players head up event

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Mia Hamm, center, along with Kristine Lilly, and Tisha Venturini-Hoch (not pictured) will lead the TeamFirst Soccer Academy, which begins today at the Glass Bowl at the University of Toledo. It's a soccer skills camp for girls ages 8-19, but the environment also allows Hamm to pass along the values that playing soccer has taught them.
Mia Hamm, center, along with Kristine Lilly, and Tisha Venturini-Hoch (not pictured) will lead the TeamFirst Soccer Academy, which begins today at the Glass Bowl at the University of Toledo. It's a soccer skills camp for girls ages 8-19, but the environment also allows Hamm to pass along the values that playing soccer has taught them.
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Three of the world's top female soccer players had dreams -- dreams that didn't just involve winning world titles or Olympic gold medals.

When they trained to play soccer on some of the world's biggest platforms, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Tisha Venturini-Hoch talked about the things they would accomplish after they'd retired: traveling the world, starting families, yet still remaining ambassadors for the game of soccer.

They had children, they traveled the world, and they occasionally got into communities to work with youth soccer players.

Finally, Venturini-Hoch said, they realized there was no perfect time to design their own camp experience. The three former Olympians and World Cup champions also knew there was no more time to waste, so they went to work in designing the TeamFirst Soccer Academy.

Venturini-Hoch, Hamm, and Lilly will lead the TeamFirst Soccer Academy, which begins today at the Glass Bowl at the University of Toledo. It's a soccer skills camp for girls ages 8-19, but the environment also allows Hamm, Lilly, and Venturini-Hoch to pass along the values that playing soccer has taught them.

"You have to be able to work hard, be respectful and get along with people, whether it's in jobs or in school or on your team," Venturini-Hoch said. "You have to be able to do that to survive.

"We want the kids to understand it's about being a good teammate and being part of a team. Kids are already thinking about college scholarships when they're nine years old, and there's pressure from parents. But we want to bring it back to being fun and putting in hard work, and respecting the game and their teammates."

Todd Strayer, a former youth soccer coach in the Toledo area, initiated the campaign to bring the TeamFirst camp to Toledo.

Nearly three years ago, Lilly attended a varsity soccer game between Perrysburg High School and St. Ursula Academy, part of a fund-raiser for breast cancer awareness and research, and Strayer kept in touch with Lilly and the organizers of the TeamFirst Soccer Academy.

Strayer had one disadvantage: he no longer works with a club soccer team or program because of family commitments, yet had to meet a deadline and an enrollment number in order to be able to host the camp in Toledo. He developed interest in the camp through the use of email and social media.

"We had two weeks to get to the numbers we had to get to, or we wouldn't be able to have the camp," Strayer said.

The demand, he said, was strong. At $300 a camper, 200 players registered in the first week the camp was open and the camp was at capacity (260 campers) after the 14-day registration window in March.

TeamFirst Soccer Academy has hosted three camps in the last six months, in California, Virginia, and Texas, and the Toledo camp is the third of five on the organization's schedule this summer.

In those travels and in working with youth soccer players, Venturini-Hoch sees a common thread.

"Bringing them together, you see that this is a game they love to play," she said. "The teams we played on, we loved those teams. The kids love the game, they love to be challenged and they like to be around positive people. That's what we like to see at these camps."

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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