ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Maddie Parker had participated in a number of soccer camps growing up and knew exactly what she liked about them.
So when the redshirt freshman defender on the University of New Mexico women’s soccer team served as one of the instructors in the Lobo Women’s Soccer Academy at Robertson Field, she relied on her own experiences to find ways to capture her group’s attention.
“I was in charge of agility drills this morning,” Parker said Monday morning during the first session of the four-day program for girls 5-18 (mixed in with a few boys). “The big thing was to try to make it fun, and I remember when I went to camp that it was most fun when the coach made things competitive.”
The camp was split into two groups – a Junior Lobo camp for the younger players or players just starting out that emphasized the fun of playing the game through learning fundamentals and teamwork. The other group, for girls 9-18, focused on individual skill and speed work. UNM head coach Kit Vela and her staff oversaw the camp with several players serving as instructors, whose knowledge the kids wanted to tap.
About 80 campers were on hand to improve their soccer skills.
“I came here because I wanted to learn more about playing midfield,” a 9-year-old camper named Andrea said. “It’s fun; I’m definitely learning new tricks. I learned how to defend the ball from another person. It’s like my parents have taught me – the more I learn about soccer and practice, the better I’ll become and the more fun I’ll have.”
Lobo redshirt freshman Eileen Zendejas also had the urge to help out with the program because she wanted the kids to have fun playing soccer. Unlike Parker, Zendejas did not attend camps growing up.
But the Santa Ana, Calif., native, who has been at UNM in part to do some rehab work after coming off injury, wanted to get involved in a giving-back-type effort, which led her to volunteer to teach at the camp.
“I really wanted to help out with the kids so they would have a good time,” said Zendejas, who was instructing a shooting drill for the campers. “The fun part for me is just talking to the girls, just the different personalities and how they respond. I just wanted to have community involvement; that was important.”
Among the individual work, the campers did get into some competitive situations. Zendejas’ station involved pairing up kids for a World Cup-style competition that allowed them to pick their favorite country.
The United States’ heartbreaking tie with Portugal in the World Cup on Sunday was a popular topic of conversation at the Lobo soccer practice field.
“My team won one of the World Cup (competitions); we were Spain,” said camper Julia, age 10.
Julia came to the camp to learn about goaltending, which was set to take place Monday afternoon. “So far, I’ve worked on passing, learned about communicating,” she said with a smile. “Soccer is my favorite sport. I’ve tried basketball and soccer, and using my feet is a lot easier for me.”
Part of the camp, however, instructs the campers to get out of their comfort zones and try something different to expand their skill sets.
“The most important thing we do is make sure they do everything right,” Parker said, “from doing fundamentals to staying hydrated.”
And the biggest reward for the Lobos is watching their students pick up on what they’re being taught and show improvement as soccer players.
“That’s what’s fun,” Zendejas said. “It shows that they’re really into it when we’re trying to teach them something.”
Two more sessions of the Lobo Women’s Soccer Academy will take place from July 7-10 and from July 28-31 at Robertson Field just southeast of University Stadium. For more information on those camps, click here.
The Lobo women’s soccer team gets underway with an intrasquad scrimmage and an exhibition on Aug. 14 and Aug. 16 before the season opener starts Aug. 22 at Texas Tech. The Lobos play their Cherry/Silver Game at the Lobo Soccer Complex on Aug. 29, and play their first home match on Sept. 12 against Loyola-Chicago.