Argos a popular destination on Chicago Fire summer camp circuit
ARGOS — For the second consecutive season, the Chicago Fire has brought one of their youth soccer camps to Argos and for good reason.
You see the turnout in Argos is as good if not better than any of the Fire’s many other summer camps around northern Illinois and northern Indiana.
This week 74 boys and girls ages 7 to 16 have descended on Argos’ Community Park soccer fields.
Argos, a well-known hotbed for soccer, is the perfect place for Chicago Fire to hold its soccer camp for youth.
“We were surprised (at the number of participants) last year for it being such a small community,” said Chicago Fire coach Martin Thomas, who is from Liverpool, England. “It’s one of the smallest towns I’ve been to, but so many kids stand out. Obviously it’s got the history of being one of the oldest soccer clubs in Indiana and one of the cheapest. The fact that they can compete with some of the clubs that charge more is impressive. I was also impressed by the standard of soccer with it being such a small community.”
The relationship between Argos and the Chicago Fire soccer camp started a little over a year ago when Argos native Bill Mills simply cold called the Fire’s company — Youth Elite Soccer — to inquire about camps.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“Having the Chicago Fire camp here locally allows our youth exposure to a different style of training,” said Mills, who serves as the president of the North Central Soccer Association. “It also presents exposure to professional soccer, which is currently less accessible due to television coverage and family traditions.
“To grow the popularity of the sport we need to connect the youth game to the professional levels. This is a step towards that for us in the NCSA.”
The Chicago Fire camp is about as good a summer camp option as you will find.
For just $125, campers get five days of instruction for three hours each day. In addition to getting schooled on the fundamentals of the game as well as key tactics and strategies, each camper gets a ball, jersey and a complimentary ticket to a Chicago Fire game.
Thomas and three other Europeans, including Michael Butler (from Essex), Ollie Souter (Yorkshire) and Matt Ward, who was born overseas, but now lives in Chicago are the coaches heading up the Fire’s camp in Argos.
As each coach takes the field to begin the day’s activities, their bright blue jackets with the words “Chicago Fire Soccer In The Community” printed on their backs is easily recognizable.
Needless to say it’s an appropriate motto, if you will.
“It’s about what we do in Illinois and spreading it across the Midwest,” Thomas explained. “We have the Chicago Fire brand, but we want to try and spread it.”
Thomas and the other coaches do indeed form a bond with the community during their one-week stay in Argos. After all, each stays with a host family in the community.
“We got great feedback from everybody in the community,” said Thomas, who is the camp’s coordinator and coaches boys and girls teams at Grays Lake Galaxy Club, which is close to the Wisconsin border north of Chicago.
Campers definitely enjoy having the Fire’s camp so close to home seem to get a lot out of it.
Analiese Hooten will be an eighth grader at Walkerton’s Urey Middle School in August and calls the Chicago Fire camp an “amazing experience.”
“I chose to do the Chicago Fire soccer camp for many reasons, including to improve my footwork,” Hooten said.
“I have met a lot of people through this camp and they push me a lot to improve my soccer skills. The people who have more skill or experience in soccer definitely make me a better player.”
Vincent Stone, a sophomore-to-be at Argos High School, agrees.
“I wanted to improve on my technical skills this summer and I think this camp has helped me do that,” he said. “The coaches are good instructors and they explain the drills very thoroughly and it’s very easy to understand.
“I would strongly encourage any kids young and old to do this camp next year.”
The camp includes two, three-hour sessions daily and each day begins with players working on their juggling in one large group. Then the group is divided into three groups according to age. Passing is next followed by tactical activities, small-sided scrimmages and finally full-field scrimmages.
On the camp’s last day, each camper takes part in a graduation ceremony where they’re handed a certificate that includes an evaluation form so they know where they stand and what parts of their soccer games need improvement.
The Chicago Fire camp offers exactly the kind of experience every coach wants to see his or her players be a part of during the off-season.
Andy Stone, the head soccer coach for Argos’ junior high school’s seventh and eighth grade boys team, loves what the Fire’s camp brings to the community.
“What it means to have the Chicago Fire camp here is a quality perspective of a great sport as we try to grow it in this state, in this county and in our community,” Stone said.
“If this opens the door for new people to enjoy new experiences and opens their eyes to what a great and fantastic sport this game is, than its mission is accomplished.”
Keep in mind; now that the FIFA World Cup is underway, more than three billion people will watch soccer over the next month culminating in the final in Rio de Janeiro July 13.
“It’s good to have the camp during the World Cup because then the kids can go home and watch what we’re trying to teach them on the TV,” Thomas admitted.
Yes, soccer continues to be the fastest growing sport in the United States. That’s a fact that Thomas has seen first hand in his three years in the States.
“Since I came over in 2012, I’ve been surprised how big the sport is over here,” he said. “Coming from England, you’re born with a ball at your feet whereas over here you’ve got four other sports you’ve got to compete with and then soccer is the next one.
“I don’t think the United States gets enough credit for what it does in youth soccer. There are certain things you do better than we do back home. The facilities are 10 times better than what we have in England and the whole organization is better.
“We don’t have lights to play under or these types of goals,” Thomas added. “We don’t have these kinds of open spaces like they do in Argos to have a camp with about 75 kids either.”