A Trifecta of Soccer Camps

Photo | Submitted Young soccer players ages 3 to 6 can learn basic skills at Lil' Soccer Stars Camp, held at the Lakelands Park field.

Photo | Submitted
Young soccer players ages 3 to 6 can learn basic skills at Lil’ Soccer Stars Camp, held at the Lakelands Park field.

Aspiring soccer stars in our area are fortunate. They have three great soccer summer camp options, all run by distinguished soccer players turned coaches and designed to help young athletes improve their game.

Local resident Ali Feldman Khrizman brought her Pivotal Play Soccer program to the Lakelands Park field last summer. Khrizman played semi-professional soccer while she was a student at Churchill High School, attended George Mason on a sports scholarship, and has coached varsity soccer at Winston Churchill High School for the past eight years. She has offered private clinics and camps to teams for many years, but last summer was her first offering a neighborhood camp.

“It was a success,” she said. “We had a lot of new players, a lot of new families, and a lot of returning students.”

This summer Pivotal Play Soccer will again offer two one-week sessions, July 11 to 15 and July 25 to 29 at the Lakelands Park field. Lil’ Soccer Stars is for boys and girls ages 3 to 6. The 9 to 11 a.m. camp focuses on coordination and balance, fundamental soccer skills and play.

Four-year-old Beckett Safa had fun at the Lil’ Soccer Stars Camp last summer. “I love kicking the ball,” he said. “I liked when my coach pretended he was a Transformer, and we had to kick the ball and hit him in his leg. It was so fun.” Other highlights for Beckett were crab walking and talking to his coaches at snack time.

Beckett’s mother, Marisa Safa, said, “I really credit the coaches for figuring out fun ways to engage such young kids, i.e., acting like a Transformer to essentially start teaching the kids to pass the ball.”

Pivotal Play Soccer runs clinics and classes year-round, and Beckett, who loves soccer, is enrolled in classes. Safa said, “At his age, it’s so important for him to practice following directions, working with his teammates, trying new things, and just having fun.  The practices also help the little kids hone various coordination skills, and I noticed Beckett really felt a sense of pride when he ‘mastered’ a skill.”

Day Camp is for boys and girls ages 7 to 18. The 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. camp teaches technical skills and tactical training. Different topics are covered each day. Khrizman said that last summer’s Day Camp “was an intense camp. We really worked the kids, and the parents appreciated that. Each camper went home with a lot of touches on the ball.”

Campers can enroll for both weeks. Topics covered in each camp session will be the same, Khrizman said, but campers will do different drills and may have a different coach with a different teaching style.

For more information about Pivotal Play Soccer Camps, visit www.pivotalplaysoccer.com.

Another soccer camp entering its second summer is GPS Soccer Camps founded and run by Kevin Gnatiko, a soccer star at Watkins Mill High School who attended University of Maryland, Baltimore County on scholarship and played professionally with Crystal Palace Baltimore. Gnatiko is now head boys’ varsity soccer coach at Quince Orchard High School, and QO varsity soccer players work at all GPS Soccer Camps. “It’s a great way for the local youth players to learn and play with the high school soccer players,” Gnatiko said.

Nine-year-old Joryn Fleischer liked working with QO athletes last summer, and said that he would recommend GPS Soccer Camps to his friends because “this is a coach from QO, and he’s really, really good.”

Joryn, who started playing soccer when he was four, was enrolled in the full-day camp, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., last summer. “I loved playing the games and learning passing routines and getting wide if you’re a defender,” he said, adding that most of what campers do each day is soccer.

Full-day and half-day camps (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) offer youth soccer players the opportunity to improve their technical foot skills and ball control while also developing character strengths like commitment, sportsmanship, focus, teamwork and dedication. Dutch, Brazilian and Spanish soccer, countries that have produced some of the world’s greatest players, are studied in a nurturing environment.

Joryn’s father, Brad Fleischer, said, “Kevin (Gnatiko) is an incredible coach, and he knows soccer. But it’s not just about soccer. He teaches kids life skills like sportsmanship, soccer as a passion, diet and exercise, commitment.”

“I value his ability to help the kids maintain their passion,” Jill Fleischer, Joryn’s mother, said. “He makes it a sport that the kids want to have a future in. … He’s grooming the next set of kids for high school sports.”

Thirteen-year-old Elliott Eager attended GPS Soccer Camp for five weeks last summer, and felt that he became an even better player. “It helped me so much!” he said. “I play for the Potomac Soccer Association and I’ve been playing for four years.”

Eager said he enjoyed creative games designed to get touches on the ball and was surprised by how effective they were. “The skills we learned were basic moves,” he said, “but got challenging as we put them together. I would definitely recommend this camp, especially if you need to get good at certain skills, if you want to get good in a short amount of time, or if you want some extra practice.”

GPS Soccer Camps, open to boys and girls ages 6 to 18, run in one-week sessions from June 20 through July 1 and July 25 through Aug. 5. Camps are held at Quince Orchard High School. For more information, visit gnatikoprosoccer.com/soccer-camps.html and consider attending a free Go Premier Soccer Skills Clinic for boys and girls ages 7 to 13 on Feb. 15, 10 a.m. to noon. The clinic will be held at Ridgeview Middle School, 16000 Raven Rock Dr., Gaithersburg. Check www.gnatikoprosoccer.com for more information

Photo | Submitted Coach Gary Burke works with young soccer players at SAM Soccer Camp.

Photo | Submitted
Coach Gary Burke works with young soccer players at SAM Soccer Camp.

SAM Soccer Camps at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown have been an integral part of the Soccer Association of Montgomery (SAM) program for the past nine years. The first few years, the camps were offered in partnership with the now disbanded Washington Freedom, said Annie Gavett, marketing manager. “Our goal is to have kids all year. … SAM is mainly a rec league where they can build their skills. Then they can move on to more professional play.”

Enrolling young athletes ages 6 to 16 with full-day and half-day options, SAM Soccer Camps “teach the fundamentals of the game—passing, dribbling, shooting—and use fun games,” said Jimmy Escobar, director of programs. “It’s hot out there, so we vary things and make it interesting. … A group might play a fun game like Capture the Soccer Ball and then break up into individual groups with one coach and a CIT.” Camps also sometimes use the indoor Discovery Sports Center during the heat of the day, and lunch is always eaten there. Campers can bring lunch from home or purchase it at the Discovery Sports Center Café.

SAM Soccer Camp is run by Gary Burke, an English soccer star. “Gary Burke is really fabulous,” said Gavett. “He has a ton of experience and played on high-level teams. He has a great personality, good rapport with the students. Some call SAM Soccer the Gary Burke Camps.” One-week sessions run June 20 through Aug. 12.

Another great camp option for young athletes is the Soccer/Tennis Camp, held in partnership with Montgomery TennisPlex. Campers concentrate on soccer during the morning and then tennis in the afternoon. Now entering its third summer, the Soccer/Tennis Camp has been very popular. “We typically have 180 to 200 campers for SAM Soccer Camps,” Escobar said, “and this jumped to 340 with the Soccer/Tennis Camp.” One-week sessions are held June 20 through Aug. 12.

For kids ages 5 to 13 who like to play a lot of different sports, there’s the Fun For All, All For Fun Summer Camp. This camp offers basketball, dodgeball, soccer, kickball and flag football with fun activities like a talent show and field trips to the Germantown Splash Park. One-week sessions run June 20 through Aug. 26.

For more information on camps held at the Maryland SoccerPlex, visit www.samsoccer.org/camp/soccertenniscamp/index_E.html.