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July 13, 2013

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Stoke coaches get a kick out of summer camp in Shanghai

NOTHING is stopping these kids from running around the pitch and learning new soccer skills, not even a reported 37 degrees Celsius midsummer afternoon.

It's a summer camp at an international school in Shanghai, and what makes it special is the involvement of English Premier League team Stoke City Football Club.

Adam Cookson and Paul Salvatore, coaches with Stoke City Community Trust, both have experience with the club's youth academy and are in Shanghai to lead the two-week camp.

It's the first time the club has gotten involved in China. It hopes to groom new talents and build its own identity among a young generation of fans and break the dominance of clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Thirty children from seven to 14 years old gathered at Western International School of Shanghai (WISS). Some are WISS students, others have been recommended by local middle schools. Some have been playing on school teams for years, while others are new to the sport after watching soccer on television.

"The boys were first not dressed very correctly, and the next day when they came back, nearly 75 percent of them were wearing soccer boots and a T-shirt. Now they're all dressing correctly," says Steven Walker, a PE teacher at WISS.

Language was also an issue at the beginning as children from Britain, the Netherlands, South America, Denmark and Spain were present. However, the problem was resolved soon.

"I'm Jim, the interpreter!" said Lu Yuxin, a boy from Xujing Middle School. The 7th-grade student with slightly tanned skin has become a popular figure within the camp as he quickly understands the skills taught, and speaks basic English, which enables him to help the coaches communicate with other Chinese students.

"We applaud every time he steps up and translates for us. He's done a brilliant job and we all like him," coach Salvatore says.

As a soccer lover, Jim had attended training courses before.

"The coaches are more professional here and the classes are scientifically arranged. Skills taught here are practical and solid, which I will try to put into use in real games, like the sports meeting games in my own school," he says.

The camp takes place Monday to Friday, from 9am to 3pm. The students start with ball mastery - having the ball under the feet and learning how to control and move it. They move on to strength and conditioning, shooting practice and skills like defending and attacking. Swimming with games and lessons on tactics are arranged in the afternoon when its hotter and add some fun to the training.

Two weeks is not enough to make a difference in mastering any sport, but it can help players improve.

"Hopefully they can learn technical skills which they can practise later on their own," coach Cookson says.

Some kids from local schools might not have many chances to play outside. Plus, in big cities, you can not always find an appropriate piece of greenery to play soccer on. To build long-term interest, more soccer fields are needed around the city.

"There are people out here who are crying out to be coached in football because they love it," Salvatore says. "It's also an opportunity for Stoke City to be known broader other than England. Stoke is a very local and community club. Now here is a chance for more people to know about it."

As a club with fewer stars and titles compared to the Premier League powerhouses, Stoke City, based in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, has cultivated a good number of potential young fans.

Viewing it as a mutually beneficial experiment, the club and WISS are working toward holding the soccer camp regularly, which is surely good news for kids who love the game.


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