Issaquah Soccer Club teams travel to London

June 26, 2012

By Erica Thompson

Kristof Hefty (left), of the Issaquah Soccer Club Gunners U11 team, faces off in a match against a member of Arsenal Academy during the local team’s recent tour in London. By Zheng Li

Four Issaquah Soccer Club teams traveled to London recently for a 10-day soccer tour to learn how the English play the game.

Jimmy Ball, the club’s director of football and coach of four Issaquah premier teams, used to play and coach in England. He said his connections, along with a company called XLTravel that organized airfare, hotel and transportation and coordinated with the academies, allowed the young players to experience English soccer at its best.

“Just watching those premier league games was a great experience for them,” Ball said. “To see live matches — pros playing, the speed of their play and … how they kept the ball so well — was one thing that I was hoping they would learn, and they did.”]

The players were able to watch Manchester United and Everton matches, as well as tour Manchester United’s stadium and England’s national Wembley Stadium.

Playing against English teams was another pivotal part of the learning experience. Kristof Hefty, 11, said along with touring Wembley Stadium, his favorite part of the trip was playing Arsenal Academy.

“We learned a lot by seeing their skills and techniques,” he wrote in an email. “We know we need to work harder and train even when it is not scheduled.”

Kristof and his team also played matches against Leicester City and Pro-Touch Academy. Ball said they are “like no teams they would get to play in America” based on their speed of play, amount of communication and overall skill.

The Issaquah Soccer Club consists of about 3,500 players and includes three levels of play: recreation, select and the Gunners premier program, which is the highest level of training and play offered. The families of the boys of the U11, U12, U13 and girls U13 Gunners teams accompanied their kids on the trip halfway around the world.

Kim Hefty, Kristof’s mother, described the journey as “the trip of a lifetime” and said she enjoyed watching her son experience soccer in a different setting.

“I think Kristof has a whole new appreciation for the sport of soccer and a larger view of the world,” she wrote in an email.

As team manager for the boys U11 team, Doug Herman was also privileged to see England with his son and appreciate the competition the country offered.

“All the teams we played were very skilled at ball movement and communication, and I think that is definitely something our boys took away from the experience,” he wrote in an email. “My son has already said he’s ready to go back again, so I know he had a great experience that he’ll remember for his lifetime.”

Ball said his U11 boys’ team played April 22 for the first time since the trip and he could already see improvement. While understanding that the players are still young and learning, he said he knows “they have picked up some great habits.

“They played with composure and confidence and they moved the ball around extremely quickly,” he said. “And quite honestly, not to put anyone down, but the other team hardly saw the ball at all.”

In the small amount of time the players were not watching or playing soccer, they were able to round out their spring break adventure by visiting some of London’s most famous landmarks, such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. They also rode on the London Eye and shopped at the soccer super store.

“I never thought he would travel so far away at this age, especially to play a team sport,” Hefty said of her son. “I’m so appreciative that he was given the opportunity.”

Ball said all the players represented the club extremely well and he will be planning more trips like it in the future.

“The way the children of Issaquah conducted themselves — their behavior, their manners, their respect for where they were and what they were there for — was first class and I was very proud of them,” he said.

Erica Thompson is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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