Duane Robinson calls it the beautiful game, pointing to the fact that it’s the most popular sport in the world.
In Bristol Borough, however, it’s hard to find a group of kids playing the game of European fütball, as it’s known to many. There is no varsity program, no middle school and no elementary program in any of the borough schools. St. Ann’s and St. Mark’s collaborate on a pair of varsity teams – one each for boys and girls at the elementary level. After that, if you want to play CYO at the high school level, you have to join a team at St. Thomas’ parish in Croydon.
“There are just not that many programs around here for soccer and no one wants to travel,” said recent Bristol High graduate Nicole Adamson, who played soccer at St. Thomas throughout high school in between field hockey, basketball and softball games. Adamson was one of several volunteer coaches who came out this week to guide Bristol Borough youths in the art of soccer.
“It’s a matter of practicing the fundamentals. These kids just haven’t been exposed that much to the sport,” she said of the 40-some borough youths attending the afternoon camp hosted by the 21st Century Community Learning Center and the United Way of Bucks County at the Bristol Memorial Ballfields.
In order to teach said basics to the campers, Robinson and his co-coaches Adamson and Ashley Chulillo, spent time Wednesday, Aug. 22 instructing the kids on the proper way to do a 3-V-1 drill, which closely resembles a game of keep-away we all played as children.
Robinson says the skills learned by practicing the 3-V-1 drill are a microcosm of the sport.
“You can’t just stand there flat-footed,” said Robinson, a former Trenton resident and three-time All-American at Delphi University (1990) who graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1986. “You have to move into space.”
In addition to passing and receiving, the kids learned how to kick off the side of their feet. Midway through the week, they looked like artful dodgers with the ball.
“They have come a long way; they definitely have learned a lot,” said Adamson.
A goalkeeper for St. Ann’s/St. Mark’s CYO, Tyler, 10, says the camp has helped him improve his game between the pipes.
“They teach certain tricks,” he said, “how to block the ball, smack it down and get control.”
A big reason why soccer isn’t popular in the borough is sheer numbers or lack of them, says camp counselor Jim Petrino. Between 35 and 40 boys typically sign up to play varsity football each fall. Field hockey draws a similar number on the girls side, he says.
After that, there’s few athletes left in the school to play any sport. “Where are you going to draw the kids from?” asked Petrino.
Still, Petrino likes the idea of adding soccer and lacrosse to the summer camp schedule.
“There’s money to be made in any sport so hopefully, it catches on with somebody,” he says.
“If you can find one or two that pick it up and says ‘this is something that I’m interested in,’ maybe they’ll continue with it,” commented Robinson.
Even at camp though, soccer didn’t seem so popular.
“Soccer is not my sport but I’ll play it if I have to,” said Kendell Lewis, 12.
The kids grew weary of all the no-goals called by referees when rules weren’t followed permitting a goal to stand. The ancient sport does not contain the instant gratification granted the scorer when one makes a jump shot, scores a touchdown or crushes a home run with one swing of the bat.
“You gotta look at the details in terms of slide-tackling and passes – the moves that are made,” explained Robinson.
“In basketball, you have a lot of scoring. Here, we don’t have that. You see a lot of zero-zero games, a lot of one-one games so it’s really the flow of the game that people have to enjoy.”
So soccer camp turns into an exercise on the fundamentals of fütball. Teamwork, focus and listening skills, help too, “so they can learn a new concept,” says Robinson.
The coaches spent a large part of the week-long camp teaching the kids passing and receiving skills, along with some shooting and ball-handling techniques.
“We’re trying to teach them what soccer is all about – defense, offense, what a sweeper is, what a stopper is, what a right back is, what a goalkeeper is,” he explains.
Showing improvement and enthusiasm is all Robinson asks.
“We took a group of kids who really didn’t understand anything about soccer and taught them a new sport.”
And that’s a beautiful thing, says Robinson.
“This is the game of the world – the most popular sport."