Water breaks are a normal part of any sports camp this time of year. But prayer breaks? This could mean only one thing: Catholic Soccer Camp was in session at the end of last month in Overland Park, Kan.
The one-week camp for boys and girls ages 7 to 17 welcomed about 70 youngsters from around the nation and a few from the first camp, which was held three years ago in Steubenville, Ohio, where the camp’s head coach, Antonio Soave, served as the men’s soccer coach for Franciscan University.
“I was inspired by the faith-filled atmosphere at Franciscan,” explains Soave. “In particular, the players that I had were such an inspiration to me. I saw how they wanted to integrate faith into college soccer, and we did that. We incorporated prayer into everything we did. As a team, we did things like go to confession together and participate in Eucharistic adoration.”
With these ideals in mind, Soave relates that he wanted to create a soccer camp combining high-level training and high-level Catholic spirituality.
Pray and Play
A native of the Detroit area, Soave played semipro soccer in Italy for a couple of years. He is assisted on the field by two coaches from Italy: Massimo Carli and Luigi Dusatti. According to Soave, both coaches are highly respected figures in the Italian youth soccer circuit.
“The two of them are very, very good with kids,” he says. “They love the international experience. As well, the Catholic nature of the camp is something that has touched their hearts.”
Camp begins with daily Mass outside at the soccer complex. A short talk is given after Mass by a member of Varsity Catholic, a Fellowship of Catholic University Students outreach, on Christian living. Then the kids head out for training. Every 20 minutes or so, the teams take a prayer break, which is often led by one of the campers. Each day of camp ends with some praise and worship. This year Michael McGlinn was the worship leader. Soave says that McGlinn, who played football while at Notre Dame, inspired the campers.
This was the second year that the soccer camp partnered with Varsity Catholic. According to the group’s president, Thomas Wurtz, Varsity Catholic works with college athletes and helps them step out and serve kids by instructing them in their sport and in their faith.
“What impresses me with this camp is the quality of the kids. They play hard for long hours in the heat. I don’t think I have once seen an argument on the field in the three years I have seen the camps,” says Wurtz. “It is encouraging to see the quality of kids and their desire to grow as Catholic athletes.”
Cool to Be Catholic
Soave notes that he and his coaching team have received nothing but positive responses to the program’s faith elements.
The kids loved daily Mass. “Our daily Masses were an inspiration to all,” Soave says. “I think what we are transmitting here is that it is cool to play and be Catholic at a high level.”
Dana Nearmyer agrees that this camp provides great formation on and off the field. His two teenagers attended last year and loved the combination of faith and fun.
“Catholic soccer camp brings the love and worship of Christ fully integrated into the practice of soccer,” notes Nearmyer, who has coached soccer at the high-school level for 25 years. “Archbishop [Joseph] Naumann [of Kansas City, Kan.] has told us that the most important thing that our soccer program can do is to deepen our coaches’ and players’ relationship with the person of Christ. Catholic soccer camp moves us closer to Christ.”
One of Soave’s favorite stories about the camp’s impact is one related to him recently at a barbecue. A mother told him that her teenage son felt withdrawn and unsure of how to express his Catholic faith and still be an aggressive soccer player. That all changed after a week at Catholic Soccer Camp.
For the first time, her son felt that he could express his Catholic faith and his athletic talent simultaneously. In fact, he told his mom that the camp was the greatest experience he had ever had.
“The mom was crying as she told me this,” Soave recalls.
In reflecting on this year’s camp, Soave says it was a resounding success both on the soccer field and in the hearts of the soccer players.
Soave is convinced that a faith-filled soccer camp is the way to go: “We get to touch souls. When you keep Christ in the center of the camp, you can sense the difference.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.