European football comes to Craig

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Craig was visited by two Brits with a passion for soccer but these were no hooligans. Rob Hawkins and John Tothnem brought their expertise in what the Europeans know as football to 54 Craig youth last week.

The clinic was sponsored by the Craig Youth Soccer Association, and the idea was to show the kids something different according to Ray DuBois, the secretary, treasurer and registrar for the association.

"The idea was to give the kids a different perspective," DuBois said. "You know, we play football and baseball over here, but the World plays soccer," he added.

The English coaches are part of a program hosted by Major League Soccer MLS, to bring new ideas to young players according to DuBois. "Last year they worked in 1,100 different communities," he said.

"This is a great way for the kids to get a different perspective. It brings in a different philosophy. Over there it's not just a pastime it's a passion," he added.

Passion is something the two college-age coaches have plenty of. Their approach is driven by fun. "The kids are great wherever we go," Tothnem said. "As long as they enjoy themselves, that's all that really matters."

At the heart of all the fun, is a lot of learning, too.

"We play little games and do riddles and like that," Tothnem said. "They don't really realize they're learning the skills."

Those skills make the game more meaningful to the young players, according to Hawkins.

"Once they get into the game, and how it's really played the skills and passing movement they begin to enjoy it more," Hawkins said.

Hawkins feels that while soccer hasn't become dominant in the U.S., it is making great strides.

"The tide is turning," he said. "Families have told us their kids are playing soccer more than other sports, now."

He added that the women's game is especially in high gear.

"The girls are better here then in England," he said. "The men's game has still got a bit of a way to go, but there is a lot of potential there."

One of the great differences between the English style and the game American youth typically play is the concept of ball movement. The English coaches stressed ball handling skills and passing rather then scoring, and that was a learning experience for many of the youngsters at the camp.

"He (Tothnem) taught us the basics," said 12-year-old Chelsea Zapalac who just moved to Craig from Houston, Texas. "We learned how to pass, shoot and head the ball. I improved my dribbling the most," she added. The best part of the clinic for Zapalac was the chance to make new friends, though.

Rowen DuBois, who worked with Hawkins, improved his ball handling during the clinic.

"He taught us a bunch of tricks to get around people and turn away," DuBois said. "If you can't get it (the ball) to the net, you can't shoot," he added.

Curtis Dilldine enjoyed some the games the most. "I like Gladiator," he said. "You have to keep the ball the longest by dribbling around other people."

Michelle Workman, who normally plays goal keeper, especially enjoyed the opportunity to go get some time out of the goal box.

"I think it's going to help me with controlling the ball," she said. "I'll know how to play another position in case I get hurt and can't play keeper."

The young coaches from England also got a lot from their travels. Both are college players, and they play semi-pro soccer to help make ends meet. The chance to do something different was a welcomed one.

"This is my third year, now," said Tothnem. "It's nice to come over here where there's no mosquitoes. Spending the summer out here brings us a lot of great rewards from the kids, too. The money's nothing," Tothnem said, "but the experience is what counts."

This is Hawkins' first year coaching in the states, but it sounds like he'll be back.

"Everyone's been friendly," he said. "The families we've stayed with have been great."

Hawkins was also pleased with the turnout at the Craig camp. "I think they had twenty-odd kids last year," he said. "This year we've got 54. Ray's (DuBois) has done a great job getting people."

DuBois gives much of the credit to the Moffat County United Way, who provided grant money to ease the financial burden on players.

The cost per player was $97," DuBois said, "and the league picked up $32 of it. The United Way helped us offer this great program to kids and keep the cost reasonable," he said.

Of course, it seems the youngsters would agree with Tothnem "The money's nothing, but the experience is what counts."

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