Jul. 22—GRAND HAVEN TWP. — This week, area youth soccer players have had a chance to learn the game the same way it's taught at the highest level.
Coaches working with Everton Soccer Camps have been running day camps at White Pines Intermediate School for players from ages 5 to 18 in partnership with the Lakeshore Soccer Club.
If there's an English club where Stateside visits make the most sense, it's likely Everton. They're one of the oldest professional teams in England and play in the country's Premier League, one of the most widely-watched leagues in the world. They've also had American connections in recent years, with goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfielder Landon Donovan both spending time with the club.
"The goal is trying to show how a Premier League club operates," Luke van Oort, one of the camp's coaches, said. The Amsterdam-born 28-year-old normally coaches in Chicago. "We try and teach them different parts of the game as well as give them a different look how to play."
Matching an English team with an American operation like Lakeshore produces a win-win for those involved. Kids get a chance to receive coaching from fresh faces during the middle of the club soccer offseason, and coaches, most foreign-born, get a chance to teach the game and travel around the country.
English teams see the U.S. as a new market for fans, thanks in large part to growing television audiences. The Premier League itself had somewhat of a niche audience for the better part of the last two decades, but appetite for the game has grown since NBC acquired TV rights for the league in 2013.
Therefore, teams such as Everton are holding camps in 17 different states to both teach the game and market themselves to a new group of potential fans. The professional team itself is in Florida over the next week for a pair of exhibition matches.
The week-long camps are modeled to simulate a professional-style practice session. Players focus on ball skills and passing for the first part of the day before discussions about different areas related to the game, such as nutrition.
"Getting to meet a new group of kids every week is so much fun," Kelly Peaurt of Oxford, England said.
A handful of older campers get involved in longer sessions that run from 9 a.m. until the late afternoon, a test of stamina that benefitted on Thursday afternoon from some early cloud cover.
How Everton got paired up with Lakeshore came as much from good timing as anything else. One of Lakeshore's coaches, England-born Adam Dean, spent time coaching in the youth system of the MLS's Chicago Fire, where he connected with van Oort and Peaurt as part of Community Athletic Solutions, a group that connects coaches with youth organizations across the country.
Coaches at the camp in Grand Haven represent seven countries, including Singapore and Ghana.
Travel restrictions were a headache for Peaurt, who was forced to quarantine in Romania before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to come to the U.S.
"The different red zones meant a lot of different hurdles to jump through," Peaurt said. "We watched the [European Championship] final at a pub in Romania a couple weeks ago, we were two of the only England fans in there."
For the campers, they may not have known much about Everton itself heading into the week, but they've had a chance to learn new aspects of the game from new coaches.
"The best part has just been getting together to play with teammates and friends," Ludington's Parker Wendt said. "They're some long days, but we're having a lot of fun."
In turn, those coaches have a week to explore some of the Tri-Cities area, a big departure from next week's oppressive heat in Austin, Texas — the next stop on Everton's calendar.
"We've taken some time walking along the boardwalk, it's so beautiful over here," van Oort said. "It's so unique here, coming out to the Midwest is always something new."
You can email Kyle at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @KyleTurkGHT.