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What makes a Challenger Soccer Camp special?

by | Jan 20, 2022 | Featured, On The Pitch - Insight, Sideline - Insight

Challenger Soccer Camps have been running across North America for over 30 years. We asked Daniel Miller, ex Challenger Coach and current Challenger Vice- President to explore what makes the camps so special. Read on to hear what makes this experience so unique for kids, coaches, parents and Challenger staff…

If you’ve started to read this then you’re going to be someone who has either participated in a Challenger camp (as either a coach or a camper!), watched a Challenger soccer camp before, OR PERHAPS you’re just someone who hopefully is curious to read on and hear what all the fuss is about!

Some brief background on myself- I am from the UK originally and came over to the States as a coach in ‘06 before joining the company as a full-time staff member in ‘08. So that’s the role of both coach and manager covered BUT 3 years ago I took on the most common role…..that of a parent of a Challenger camper

(My kids on each of their first-ever camps and then that ‘after camp’ feeling on the drive home)

I’ve come full circle and hopefully, that gives me a unique perspective on what has become the most attended soccer camp in North America. However given the size and reach of our camp program it would be short-sighted to merely give you my opinion, hence I’ve reached out to other coaches, colleagues, and crucially fellow parents who were kind enough to complete our end-of-camp survey in 2021. Thanks in advance if your words are added below and thanks to anyone else reading this who has attended a camp in the past….

What is a Challenger camp?

The concept of the Challenger camp was always pretty simple- bring coaches over from the UK and Ireland and distribute them all over the US and Canada to run week-long day camps. A simple concept, but with a far-reaching effect and in the words of one of our most experienced staff Grant Hall (Denver, CO) we have produced:

“A wonderful, social, and cultural experience that makes it so much more than just a soccer camp”

Oh, and there’s been one one slight change in recent years; we have expanded to include coaches from all over the world, including those based here in North America, hence the name change several years ago from “British Soccer Camps” to “International Soccer Camps”. More on that to follow…

On the field

The phrase ‘sessions for all ages and ability’ is something I have written a zillion times during my role with the company but it really is true. The ability to work with and coach the individual child in a group setting was the first thing I learned (I’ll never forget my debut in Fort Wayne, IN) and as a manager, you know that whatever age or ability level you have each week on your camps, you’ll be able to find the right coach from our wide and hugely impressive range of staff.

Nowhere is the unique skill set of the Challenger coach more on display than when they are working with our youngest age group, TinyTykes (ages 3-5), as is shown by the comments of Desirae from VT:

“Coach Sal and Coach Rez were so kind and patient with these young campers. They were especially helpful and encouraging to my son, which I greatly appreciated. He barely turned three two weeks before the program started, and he has never done anything like this before. He wouldn’t have been as successful without their help!”

It’s a camper’s enthusiasm and pure love for the game that we foster at such a young age that leads to many of them ‘’graduating’’ to the most popular half-day group (ages 6+). It’s here where the true impact of what we do (excuse the pun) kicks in….

“What I love about the International Camps is the diversity of play. I talk to my children so much about learning many different styles and having them in your tool belt. 

My son also loves the World cup which is a great way to finish each day of camp and incorporate the international flavor of the game” (David Rush, Company VP/Father, Providence, RI)

Additionally, we understand the needs of a working parent in the summer (I truly do; now that I have my own kids!) and therefore offer both a Full Day Program as well as in 2022 our new extended day “Overtime” option. All sessions include a ball, a t-shirt and if you sign up early enough, a replica jersey. We are very excited about our revamped 2022 curriculum. One of the team members responsible for that, Jon Davies (Dallas, TX), believes that we will continue to offer “a combination of age-appropriate activities for players to hone their technique and skills in a fun and challenging learning environment” as part of our “holistic camp experience”. 

Off the field

I feel like this is the KEY part of this article….the stuff on the field that we’ve covered above makes us great, but it’s the stuff off the field that makes us special (not my best marketing work but you hopefully get the point!).

Put simply, it’s not JUST a soccer camp.

Thanks to Paula from NM who summed this up nicely for us:

“Super happy with the camp. When we started my child was not so enthusiastic about soccer. By the end he said that was the best camp he ever attended! He had a wonderful time, learned soccer skills but also sportsmanship. Great balance between learning skills, playing games and coming together as a whole group. I am really impressed.”

Analyzing that, I believe that there’s one ingredient that all of our staff need to create that kind of feedback…..and that’s passion. Passion for the game, passion for education and also a passion to drip feed a little cultural exchange into a day camp setting; and this point of difference was the response I got from Challenger VP, Alex Green (Providence, RI), when I asked him what he felt made us so special:

“Not only do the kids learn soccer skills but they get the chance to learn a little bit about other people’s countries & cultures which is not something you find in other camps.”

As alluded to earlier, we started out as a “British” coaching staff but the switch to include coaches from quite literally all over the world has only enhanced the off the field enthusiasm our staff create, resulting in kids going home wanting to do their “soccer homework” and return the next day to earn those magical World Cup Points. I challenge other camp companies to provide feedback like that provided by Whitney from TX or Ruschelle from KS, below, which shows how we bring everything together to extend the education process beyond the field:

“Our director (Coach T from Sri Lanka) was fantastic. The “homework” every night was fun and motivated my kids to stay involved. Easy checking/out. Friendly, communicative, fun, in control.”

“The two coaches were fantastic with the children, and through the camp, my kids fell more in love with the sport while also learning about other cultures.”

Even the COVID challenges of 2020 and 2021 didn’t stop us; using a US-based coaching team of Americans, students or ex-pats we were still able to deliver the ‘challenger camp’ this past summer:

It was a wonderful experience for both of my boys. We loved having the international coaches in the past however the coaches this year were fantastic. My younger son has always been hesitant to play soccer. He had an amazing time and wants to continue to play soccer this fall in our local soccer program. My older son continued to love soccer and had a great week too”.(Erika from RI)

The last thing I want to mention has been introduced to us by Erika above when she says “and he wants to continue to play soccer this fall”. 

Reading that is a big win for all of us!

Our mission statement includes the words ‘to ignite in kids a passion for soccer’ so that they keep playing once our staff have left town. My eldest son has done 3 years on camp now and every year he’ll be talking about the other kids and coaches on camp with such familiarity and excitement as if he’s known them all his life. That feeling of belonging to a ‘camp community’ is exactly what summers for our kids should be all about! 

I’m going to let my colleague Kate Gedzielewski from Denver, CO wrap things up:

“Challenger Sports camps are so special for everyone involved; from children, to the coaches, to parents, to host families, to the local community and to us as managers. The International culture brings everyone together and allows coaches to share their experiences of soccer through life and pass this on to children in the communities that we work within. The best part of the camps are seeing the children having fun, and having huge smiles on their faces. As a former coach, it was always such a great feeling to meet children on a Monday morning, seeing them progress during the week, and leave on a Friday as a more confident version of themselves”

To find a camp near you visit our registration landing page

There’s a whole lot more that the company offers and you can visit  or if you want to find out more