Former U.S. National Soccer Team player Desmond Armstrong traveled the globe playing against and with some of the world's best players. Last week, he showed 100 local youngsters what some of his opponents would love to see -- tricks behind some of his best moves.
The 30-year-old athlete gave a weeklong soccer clinic for the youngsters at Volleyball House Inc. on Gateway Drive in Columbia. The boys and girls, ages 7 to 14, paid $100 for the camp. Some who have played for a long time want to become professional players, while others just registered to learn something new.
Mr. Armstrong, who still lives in Columbia, said he gave the camp to help young soccer fans in the community where he was introduced to the sport. He played soccer for Howard High School and local teams.
Grouped according to age and skill level, the youngsters did 15-minute warm-ups and then proceeded to their different exercises.
During the "checkback" passing exercise, 12 youngsters ran and tapped a soccer ball with one foot, passing it to a partner and --ing back toward an orange cone, repeating the maneuver.
"Don't stop the ball; move it to the side," Mr. Armstrong coached one boy.
Later Mr. Armstrong, a member of the 1990 U.S. World Cup team and the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, demonstrated how to drag and control the ball. The youngsters did their best to do the same, but some balls went astray.
The purpose of the camp was to emphasize the basics of soccer -- trapping, passing and shooting. "What we've found is kids who have played for a number of years still haven't mastered the basics," said Mr. Armstrong, who went to his first soccer camp at age 11.
"Before you can shoot the ball, which is what everybody likes to do -- the glory -- you have to control the ball," said Jay D. Goldstein, vice president of marketing and sponsorships for Amateur Sports Group, which helped Mr. Armstrong coordinate the camp.
The youngsters also learned agility, accuracy, teamwork and communication.
Mr. Armstrong, in 1987 the first black to become a member of the U.S. National Soccer Team, started the camps four years ago to help youngsters in Maryland and neighboring states improve their soccer skills. Last week's camp was his first in Columbia in three years; the first was a summer camp in 1991.
Soccer players Dante Washington and Darryl Gee and Washington Warthogs captain Troy Snyder assisted Mr. Armstrong last week. The Continental Indoor Soccer League team co-sponsored the camp, Mr. Armstrong's first winter camp.
In an area where the older youngsters were practicing, Kenny Sanchez kicked the ball toward a goal.
The exercise was fun and educational, said Kenny, a Parkland Middle School eighth-grader who wants to be a professional soccer player. "The coaches are nice to you and teach you what you did wrong to help you make it better."
Desmond Armstrong said Howard County is an excellent place for his camp. For years, the county has been a hotbed for soccer, supported strongly by the Soccer Association of Columbia. The soccer group has nearly 4,000 youngsters enrolled.
Soccer is popular because anyone can play, Mr. Armstrong said.
"It doesn't take the greatest athlete to play, just your desire," he said. "You don't have to be tall . . . size isn't the major factor. You can [get] around that. That's the beauty behind that.
"It's improvisation at its best," he said.