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Young Soccer Players Learn to "Bend It" at David Beckham Academy



Young "footballers" from around the world attend the David Beckham Academy; photos by Joanie Harmon

Young Soccer Players Learn to "Bend It" at David Beckham Academy

For the lucky kids who are here during a week or day that [Beckham] is at The Home Depot Center is an unforgettable experience that they’ll remember the rest of their lives.
- Alison Groendal, director of public relations, The Home Depot Center

As David Beckham settles into his new home with the L.A. Galaxy at The Home Depot Center, some of his youngest fans are trying to emulate his prowess on the field at the nearby David Beckham Academy. Located on a corner of the California State University, Dominguez Hills campus, the Academy provides young players from all over the world with a winning environment and athletic training at three or five-day soccer camps for aspiring footballers of all ability levels.

“I’ve learned how to use your body to get the ball away from bigger guys,” says 14-year-old Jin Marks of Tokyo during one of the camps earlier this month. “One guy got (angry) and slide-tackled me. But I took him out pretty good.”

The Beckham Academy’s curriculum was developed by Beckham and Eric Harrison, the former Manchester United FC youth coach who trained a number of England’s soccer stars, including Beckham, when they were young. A full-time coaching staff of men and women, many of whom are from the academy’s sister campus in London, puts campers through the same paces that they and Beckham went through as youth players. Nationally recognized training company Athletes’ Performance adds to the academy’s rigor, putting the athletes through tests of speed, agility and strength. After examining each player's strengths and weaknesses, the staff then creates a plan to maintain and improve each player's game.

Young Soccer Players Learn to "Bend It" at David Beckham Academy“We hope the name David Beckham draws a significant amount of kids because it’s David Beckham, but we know that only goes so far,” says Alison Groendal, director of public relations for The Home Depot Center. “We offer the intangible things that not every soccer camp does, like being able to use the same locker rooms that Major League Soccer and international athletes use. The campers get a full kit from adidas, including jerseys, socks, shorts and cleats. Every night, that uniform gets washed and put in their locker, ready for the next morning.”

Stephen Hamilton, director of team services for AEG, which operates The Home Depot Center, points out the cachet of an academy that not only bears a world-famous name, but also mirrors the training experience that the soccer star had as a youngster.

“Part of the dream that David has had since he was a young professional player coming up was to provide opportunities that he experienced in the professional schools he went to for kids of the next generation,” he says. “One of the reasons why he chose to come to the United States was to be an ambassador for the game. Soccer in the U.S. and especially in Southern California is huge and has a great grassroots level participation, so we feel this is a tremendous service for those kids. It’s done in a fun, healthy environment that inspires kids to stay longer with the game.”

Young Soccer Players Learn to "Bend It" at David Beckham AcademyMo Boreham, the Beckham Academy’s director of coaching, emphasizes the value of the academy for players of all levels and the peer encouragement that is part of the package.

“We don’t say ‘You can play because you’re great,’ or ‘You can’t play because you’re awful.’ No one’s awful, and everyone will improve,” he says. “We open it to everybody and make the kids who are good work with the kids who aren’t as good to improve them. And they do.”

The David Beckham Academy opened both its London and Los Angeles locations in 2005 due to a partnership between Beckham and AEG. There are plans in the works for a third academy in Asia.

In Southern California, where a proliferation of sports camps bolster the dreams of young athletes or, at the very least, keep them busy for the summer months, the Beckham Academy on the CSU Dominguez Hills campus offers an experience whose value is priceless.

“When I was growing up, my brother went to basketball camps that were run by the Lakers, with Magic Johnson, Byron Scott, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,” notes Groendal. “His eyes were wide when those athletes who are nearly seven feet tall would be instructing him on the court and talking to him one-on-one. For the lucky kids who are here during a week or day that [Beckham] is at The Home Depot Center is an unforgettable experience that they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”

For more information on the David Beckham Academy, click here.

- Joanie Harmon

Photos above: Aspiring young athletes attend the David Beckham Academy for an opportunity to train like the soccer superstar and - hopefully - get a glimpse of their idol.

Rosie Gonzales of Upland, CA with Stephen Hamilton, director of team services, AEG

Jin Marks of Tokyo, Japan with Betsy Pollard, general manager, David Beckham Academy

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Last updated Tuesday, July 17, 2007, 12:14 p.m., by Joanie Harmon