Ron Celestin met Dexter Skeene at a soccer camp at Clemson University two years ago.
When the Princeton Day School decided to hold its soccer camp this summer as part of the PDS Sports Academy, Celestin jumped at the chance to call the former coach of the Trinidad national women's team.
"We kept in touch after we met," said Celestin, a Princeton University assistant coach. "When I talked about him coming in, we wanted him to come for a whole week. But he's so busy that his schedule just wouldn't allow it."
Last week, the 16 campers at the PDS soccer camp enjoyed a day of instruction from Skeene, who spends most of the year in his native Trinidad, but travels extensively in the summer in the United States to speak at such camps.
"I think he has to be the highlight of the week," Celestin said. "Just the fact that he is an international coach. For these kids to be associated with him, it is certainly a highlight."
"I found that they have the correct attitude," said Skeene, a 1986 Columbia University graduate. "They are willing to learn. I can bring them quick footwork and get them in the right position. I can also instruct them on the technical aspects of the game. I go through the basics, too.
"They can have a picture of how it should work. Ninety percent of the game is mental, and the other 10 is physical. So they don't need to just kick it, they know exactly how to position themselves to play. Even though they may not be able to execute it right away today, they have that picture they can think of." Skeene has plenty of experience working with boys and girls ages seven to 19. He runs a soccer school in Trinidad — the SKHY (Skeene Hyacenth) Football Institute — three days a week plus weekend days. It began with just one school, but has expanded to three sites. And it has enabled him to teach youngsters soccer and evaluate their progress. He saw potential at the PDS camp.
"They understand it quickly," Skeene said. "They need to work on the juggling to get the touch. The game now is developing so quickly. They need to be able to move (the ball) and think. That's what they need to practice every day. I always compare it to school. It's a lot of hard work, like anything.
"There are a couple here that catch on very quickly. That makes my day. I'm not concerned with the level they're at. I'm concerned with how they get it. It's a whole process, a learning process. I came to let them know they have to learn."
Combining the physical game with the mental background fits in perfectly with the PDS camp's philosophy.
"It's a holistic approach," said Ike Ballard, the fitness and conditioning director at the camp for the week. "The skills portion is throughout the day, but we start with the mental part and how to prepare — to get that focus and that desire. It's a real teaching camp. And it's about getting the kids involved."
And the smaller turnout was to the campers' advantage. Each got more individualized attention during Skeene's instruction than if the group had been larger.
"As I mentioned to this group, some of our best work is done with small groups," said Celestin of the sixth to 10th grade campers. "It's all about teaching and learning. I think they realize that (Skeene) is good. I think he's challenging them from the mental standpoint. I don't know if they realize how good he is. He did a juggling exhibition and it looked so easy.
They know if you want to be good, you have to practice. If they haven't made it their No. 1 sport, they're finding out now if they want to be in it."
For Skeene, soccer is life. He enjoys helping youngsters as much as coaching international-caliber teams. It is to his credit that he has been able to do both. It is what makes him such a credible instructor and why his day at the camp was so valuable.
"Each group poses different challenges," Skeene said of his coaching experience. "Each is rewarding. I can coach someone young to develop. With the country, I have to make them into something. With the bigger guys, it's more of a competitive thing. There isn't too much development."
And in the future, Skeene hopes to return with some developed players to help prepare PDS soccer campers more.
"I already spoken to Ron and we want to make it a yearly thing," Skeene said. "I'm hoping to bring some players from Trinidad, and have them help. We want it to grow."