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Delivering The Art of Soccer To Our Youth

Troup County is certainly grateful that approximately three years ago Coach Fred Wagenaar made a giant leap across the country from Graceland University in Iowa to coach the LaGrange College Panthers in soccer. In just a few short words, it is easy to tell that Coach Wagenaar is not originally from the South, and Iowa is not the accent either – it is Canadian. His wonderful accent, passion for the “art of soccer” and commitment to our young athletes’ success are just three of the reasons he is so very likeable.

He and Coach Matthew Evans frequent the soccer programs and games in our county and recognized a need for more development amount our young players. In addition, Coach Wagenaar wanted to “reach out into the community and spread the gospel of soccer.” Just two years ago they formed this camp, independent of the College, and serving any middle school and high school student interested. When asked the top reasons for starting the Evans and Wagenaar Soccer Camp, Coach Wagenaar responded “(1) to spread the soccer message – spread popularity, (2) to get our youth interested in the sport and learn about opportunities to further develop their skills and (3) establish a bigger and better recruiting base locally that will benefit both the players and the surrounding colleges.”

The Evans and Wagenaar Soccer Camp is for girls and boys – they receive different coaching messages and drills, but also play together. What are the biggest differences in coaching girls and boys in soccer? Wagenaar says the “number one thing you have to instill on girl’s side is that they can do it. They need more encouragement to take the shot – they have a tendency to pass to someone else. The number thing we work on with the boys is around the team aspect of the sport – they all want to make the ‘glory goal’ and think they can score from 50 yards out. For the boys it is teamwork and passing.”

This year the camp has 32 players, which is larger than the first year and there is hope that this camp will continue to gain popularity. In addition to Coach Wagenaar, Coach Geeter and Coach Ross are dedicating their time to this wonderful cause. Coach Geeter has been in La-Grange for 27 years coaching soccer at LaGrange College and has truly seen a transformation in the sport. He said “when he moved here there were about 50 kids playing soccer recreationally and now there are about 500.” Coach Geeter will be hosting his own camp next week for ages 5 – 14 and encourages all to come out on Monday! Coach Ross is the coach for LaGrange High soccer and is always looking for opportunities to help his players reach their fullest potential.

The camp is organized with a theme each day. They will focus on developing a skill at the start of the day and then end the day in a scrimmage so that the coaches can assess the players execution of the skill.

Monday the players focused on strategy around decision making once they have possession of the ball on the field – which encompasses a whole host of skills around shooting, dribbling, passing, etc. Strategy is important in all aspects of the game – as with most sports, there is both a mental and physical component to soccer. Tuesday there was a defensive concentration. Wednesday the players looked at movement of the ball – both forward and backward – developing a 360 view of the field and overall awareness. Thursday they took a deeper look at passing strategy and Friday the concentration was around offensive techniques.

Coach Wagenaar said ultimately ”my goal here is to try teach them something and for them to enjoy the game of soccer. Some will take that and keep on working it. Others may say this is a little too much for me and that is ok.” Well, from the looks of it this week, everyone was certainly having a great time and adding to their knowledge about the game! And, being the parent of four boys, he encourages parents to take this knowledge and practice at home – “a lot can be done in the back yard.”

Below are a few more tips from the Coach if you have a child that expresses an interest in soccer and potentially playing at the college level: 1. Get on a club team and create opportunity – there are different levels and it does not have to be thousands of dollars a year. The idea is to provide your child with an opportunity to play at a higher level. LaGrange currently has a team called the “Titans” and Matthew Evans is the Director.

2. Investigate colleges that suit your child for academics. When you have a list of these colleges, contact the soccer coaches and find out what your child will need to do to get seen by their recruiters. While Coach Wagenaar loves soccer, he emphasizes the importance of academics over the sport as professional opportunities are extremely limited and oftentimes don’t provide enough monetary reward.

The USA South Athletic Conference has released its 2016-17 Academic All-Conference Team. LaGrange has 127 student-athletes earn conference academic honors.

During the spring semester, the LC athletic department student-athletes posted a 3.067 grade point average.

‘Our student-athletes work very hard academically and athletically and we are very excited with their overall grade point average from the spring,’ said athletic director Jennifer Claybrook. ‘As pleased as we are with this accomplishment, we know our student-athletes will continue to strive for excellence.

‘I believe this is a strong indicator of the commitment by our coaches, faculty, and our entire institution to help ensure student success.’

A student-athlete must have earned a 3.0 GPA in each of the two semesters of a given year to be eligible. Any student-athlete participating in any varsity sport at any Conference institution is eligible. The sport does not have to be a Conference-sponsored sport. This season, a record 1,458 student-athletes earned Academic All-Conference honors.

Rebecca Turner Staff Writer