Local soccer program has international flavor

Scott MacKenzie (left) and Josh Mountain (right) pose with a group of "Mini-Kickers" in Millville at the conclusion of one of their spring camps. The two British soccer coaches spend most of their spring and summer traveling around the Intermountain West conducting soccer camps for youth.

MILLVILLE – It’s nearly summertime and for many local youth that means an increase in outdoor activity – including soccer.

Cache Valley youth have a number of options to choose from when it comes to getting involved in the sport, but for some youth that experience has included some international flavor.

Scott MacKenzie and Josh Mountain are both semi-pro soccer players from Great Britain spending their summer here in the United States with Challenger soccer to help youth develop skills.

But for this duo, it’s about more than just developing kids – it’s about the sport itself.

“It’s born and bred soccer for most people at home. It’s like a project out here,” MacKenzie said. “You’re not just working with the kids to develop their skills but you’re an ambassador for the sport, to talk to as many people about it, get people involved in it as well. So it’s growing here so you feel like you’re a part of something that’s going somewhere. That’s a nice feeling, to feel like you’re part of a growing phenomenon.”

MacKenzie and Mountain are both on the second go-around with Challenger, spending months traveling around the Rocky Mountain region in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming conducting soccer camps. They are two of six Englishmen in Utah, with about a dozen more in the surrounding states.

“You find you have very athletic kids, kids with great agility and balance and coordination, because they’ve been exposed to so many different sports,” MacKenzie said. “At the fundamental level in Britain, we need a foundation to build up from so they have the foundation and can build up from there.”

While the United States has struggled to keep up with the world at the professional level in soccer, MacKenzie said that the youth level is similar.

“There’s lots and lots of similarities in the youth,” MacKenzie said. “There’s still a ways to go before it’s where it needs to be, but the youth let you parent them. If you go to any rec or comp game, every kid has their whole family there. That’s brilliant. They start at a young age so from the youth, the really young ones, it’s comparative.”

Mountain agreed and added that American youth often have a wider range of abilities.

“The wide range of abilities and the kids; it’s a cultural thing,” Mountain said. “At home it’s just soccer, soccer, soccer from a young age. The thing you get with these guys is that they’ve had such a vast, different experience with different sports so they bring different things to the table. The athleticism of the kids is always impressive.”

In Britain, because soccer is the dominant sport, youth are enrolled in academy programs, which Mountain said it’s common to have a player stay with the same program from as young as five or six years old up until 16 or 18.

“That’s that pathway,” Mountain said. “You stay in that pathway and if you stay there then at 16 you’ll be offered professional terms to work with the club and at then you’ll be offered again to sign a professional contract.”

Participation with high school, club and recreational teams provides local youth with multiple avenues for success in soccer, but MacKenzie said the popularity of other sports such as basketball and football limits the expansion and success of soccer on a national level in the United States.

“The U.S. has the base of the pyramid of players, and if you have the wider base you’re going to have the wider elite at the top of it,” MacKenzie said. “But what happens is come the age of 10 or 11, the base shrinks because of the diversity of popularity of sports out here. If it went all the way up, they’d be a world force.”

Because soccer takes a back seat to other sports such as football and basketball, MacKenzie and Mountain chose to devote their summers to helping the sport grow.

“It sounds like a cliché, but it’s that light bulb clicking,” MacKenzie said. “Whether it’s a two-year-old that manages to do his first toe touch and has a massive smile on his face or a 16-year-old that has just understood that giving himself 10 yards back has allowed him to play that pass. Their reactions are completely different, but seeing you’ve affected them in that small way is why I enjoy the job.”

MacKenzie spent last summer in Texas working with a U11 team, and both he and Mountain will spend the next couple months in Utah putting on camps, the biggest of which will be held June 24-28 at Heritage Park in Nibley.

The camp will be broken down by age and grade, with any youth age 3-18 eligible. Costs range from $43 to $120 dollars, with each session lasting between 1-3 hours. Registration ends June 14, and more information can be found at <a href=”http://www.challengersports.com/britishsportscamps.aspx”>http://www.challengersports.com/britishsportscamps.aspx</a>.

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