Story last updated at 5/27/2009 - 11:01 am
JUNEAU - Soccer might not be the most competitive sport in Southeast Alaska today, but Moctar Diouf is working to change that. The new Jambaars Youth Soccer Academy, started last fall, wants to provide positive and competitive soccer training to all youth of Juneau - and eventually all of Southeast Alaska.
Diouf has been involved with soccer in Juneau since he moved here in 2000. After coaching with the Juneau Soccer Club for six years, he began to feel like there weren't enough resources available for younger players. The Juneau Soccer Club gave a lot of support to high school players, but there wasn't as much for younger players, he said.
"I had a great group of kids to work with, great families," he said. "But most of the resources... were devoted to supporting high school teams. I decided to do something different."
He then approached Leslie Houston, who has organized the Holiday Cup and served on the Juneau Soccer Club board. They formed the nonprofit Jambaars Youth Soccer Academy for ages 8-14, which later expanded to work with kids as young as five. Houston now serves as president of the organization's board.
One of the goals of the academy is for the program to be affordable and open to kids of all backgrounds, especially those who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to learn how to play.
"The community wasn't reaching all the kids who wanted to play soccer," Houston said. "They might not be able to afford the fees of competitive teams."
A 12-week session with Jambaars Youth Soccer Academy, with three hours of lessons a week, costs $75, and the academy hopes to be able to offer scholarships. The goal is to reach as many kids as possible, Houston said.
The academy has had three camps so far, and Diouf said he plans to have short day camps over the summer and start a full program again in the fall.
The most important thing in teaching the sport to young kids is to make it fun, Diouf said, which he does by creating entertaining games in which the kids can practice different skills.
"You gotta make sure they have fun at these ages," Diouf said. "Otherwise, they're not coming back."
And so far, the program has been successful - the kids are coming back for more.
"This one kid, he couldn't play before, and now he wakes up every day and asks his mom, 'Can we play soccer today?'" Diouf said.
Many of the kids who have participated in the camps so far had never played soccer before, Diouf said, and those who had played had usually never received formal training. In addition to group programs, the academy also offers individual training to kids who want to accelerate their skill development.
"Moctar's a really special person," Houston said. "The kids really look up to him."
Diouf first began coaching soon after he moved to Juneau, when he sustained an ACL injury. Since was unable to play soccer for a while, he began coaching, first for Parks and Recreation, and then for the Juneau Soccer Club.
Diouf grew up playing soccer in the streets of Dakar, Senegal.
"Growing up in Senegal, every group of friends was a team," he said. "You just (went) to find another group of friends to play against."
In 2005, Diouf was named Alaska State Coach of the Year for boys and United States Region IV Coach of the Year for boys.
Diouf believes that providing good instruction to kids at a younger age will make Southeast high school teams more competitive in the long run.
"If we succeed in this program, the high school will have a bigger pool to pull from," he said.
The programs have only been offered in Juneau so far, but eventually, they hope to expand to all of Southeast, reaching Ketchikan and Sitka, as well as smaller communities like Hoonah and Angoon, Houston said.
But before taking the show on the road, they need to build a solid base in Juneau, Diouf said.
"Before you go elsewhere, you have to make sure you take care of home first," he said.
Most of all, the programs are geared towards kids who want to have fun and be active.
"Our overall goal at this point is just a healthy physical activity," Houston said. "Most young children are really good at running and kicking."
Learn more about Jambaars Youth Soccer Academy at www.rteamsite.com/soccer/Jambaars/home.aspx.