Lake Norman & Mooresville

Players learn new skills on Davidson's campus

Daniel Nielsen learned a couple of new soccer tricks at the boys senior advanced soccer camp hosted at Davidson College.

The 16-year-old Davidson resident was one of nearly 800 campers who converged on the Davidson campus this summer for one of the six soccer camps, which wrapped up last week.

"We learned a lot," said Nielsen, a rising junior at Hough High. "It makes you become a leader. It's been fun."

The Davidson soccer camps are four- and five-day camps for boys and girls age 5 up to rising high school seniors.

Matt Spear, men's soccer coach at Davidson College and one of two camp directors, said players who attend their camps learn a lot from their instructors, who are college coaches and Wildcat soccer players.

"They have expertise on tactics and techniques that are important to learn the game," he said.

The Wildcats' women's soccer coach, Greg Ashton, is the other camp director. He's been in charge of the girls' camps since taking over the program six years ago.

Spear said there are two main reasons why after 31 years, the successful soccer camps at Davidson continue to thrive: To promote the youth game and to help youth players - from this area and beyond - improve their soccer skills.

He explained that 12 campers flew from different parts of the country to participate in last week's senior advanced boys camp, which is designed for rising seventh- through 12th-graders who play in a competitive soccer team.

Spear said that getting to play against and hear from current Davidson players is also important for campers, especially those who aspire to play collegiately.

"They were once in their shoes," he said.

Campers spend a lot of time playing soccer during camps - rather than just going through drills and learning about the concepts.

"The game is the best teacher," said Spear. "I'm a big believer in that."

He said that they even used the World Cup as a teaching tool, starting camp by watching a match.

"That was also a great way to motivate the guys and get them excited about the game," said Spear.

But that doesn't mean campers don't learn the technical side of the game.

In the mornings, campers break into small groups to work on certain soccer skills. Spear said that they try to limit their coaching points to allow campers to have more hands-on time.

"This generation of kids want to be doing things; they don't want to hear a coach lecture at them," he said. "They want to be learning on the fly."

For older age groups, participants can use camp as a way to showcase their talent in front of college coaches.

That can pay off sometimes, as Spear explained that every year he finds a player or two who he's interested in recruiting to come play for the Wildcats.

But the soccer camp isn't all about the sport. Participants also get to spend a few days experiencing college life, which can be especially beneficial for rising juniors and seniors.

Campers can stay at one of Davidson College's dorms as well as eat in their dining hall.

"They're getting an early look at what it's like to be a college athlete," said Spear.

Spear, who started working at the camp during his stint as a player for the Wildcats in the early '90s, said his players also benefit from working with younger soccer players.

"They're getting a chance to give back to the game," he said, adding that teaching the game also allows them to become better players.

Wildcats' senior midfielder Josh Zipin said he's enjoyed working his first camp this summer.

"This has been fantastic," said the Silver Spring, Md., native. "It's been great for the players because we get to come down and play with each other, but it's also cool to see the future of the program."

Spear recalled that working at camp was a big factor in his decision to pursue coaching after his playing days came to an end.

"It inspired me to want to stay with the game," he said.