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Tue, Oct

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fter a weekend of training with two coaches from Manchester United Academy, which also included motivational lectures by two local Olympic athletes, the top 50 primary school footballers of Trinidad and Tobago have learned the “Manchester United way” – becoming more skilled in problem-solving in both football and their everyday lives.

The 25 boys and 25 girls were taking part in the annual Atlantic/Manchester United Football and Life Skills Development Camp, which was held December 11-14 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium and the Queen’s Park Oval, and concluded in a Prize-Giving Ceremony at the Digicel IMAX Cinema. The camp aims to develop the football skills of the top fifty players in the annual Atlantic National Primary Schools Football League and additionally targets the children’s life management skills. This year’s life management sessions were facilitated by the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) and focused on respect, integrity and teamwork. 

Camille Salandy, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Communications at Atlantic, said the annual camp brought each season’s top players together under the tutelage of experienced international- level football coaches who helped to strengthen the foundation for the children’s future success in the sport and their school careers. 

“The Football and Life Skills Development Camp runs over three days, and it is a solid exposure for the children which is both intensive and fun, imparting long-lasting lessons that they can take back into their game, into their class rooms, and even into their families,” Salandy said. “Atlantic has partnered with the Manchester United coaches, the Primary Schools Football League and the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee to create this opportunity, and this camp helps to build up the talent pool of footballers who will advance to more senior levels of the game.”

Lead Coach for the Camp, Eamon Mulvey, who has been on Manchester United’s coaching team for over ten years, said the Camp was a genuine programme of development for the children, which was obviously bearing fruit, given the fact that some of the inaugural Camp’s participants from 2009 were now playing at the national level. 

“One thing that we found that works on the Camp is that we give the children empowerment, not just tell them what to do,” Mulvey said. “So what we try and do is we encourage them to try make the decisions and problem solve. We give them responsibility and let them learn from their own mistakes. That’s what we do with the players in our club: make decisions about how you’re going to play, and learn from those decisions. 

You end up with problem solver players.” Manchester United Assistant Coach Kevin Ward further described the “Manchester United way” as “coaches in the shadows”, rather than being at the forefront dictating actions to players. 

“Rather than dictate – do this, do this – we ask: what do you think? Why do you think you should do that?” Ward said. 

“We’re finding out what’s inside the children, and they come up with some great ideas, and then we get 50 coaches and not just 50 players. It becomes based on the ideas of the children.” This year’s camp featured motivational lectures by two of Atlantic Sports Ambassadors: Olympic and World Champion swimmer George Bovell III; and Olympic sprinter Richard Thompson. Both Olympians detailed how they overcame adversity to achieve their sporting goals and Olympic success. 

This year’s Camp also featured Special Exhibition Games played at the Queen’s Park Oval. For these games, the Camp’s participants challenged some of the leading teams in this year’s Atlantic National Primary Schools Football League. In the stands cheering on the children were Bovell, Thompson and two other Atlantic Sports Ambassadors: cricketers Merissa Aguilleira and Sunil Narine. 

The Manchester United coaches’ training method was endorsed by participants Emmanuel Thomas (Eastern Boys Govt) and Queen Jacent (Vance River RC). Thomas, who was awarded the Camp’s prize for Most Outstanding Player, called the coaches “very kind men”. 

“I liked when they taught us how to dribble and pass the ball in the correct way and I also liked how they showed us how to play against each other,” Thomas said. 

Jacent, named the Girl Player with the Best Personality, also praised the patience of the coaches, and explained that she liked the interaction with children from other schools. “The coaches taught us things that we did not know before, like taking the time to learn the correct thing, and taking the time to do it,” she said.