Sign up for sun, sea and sport on Barbados
Kate Simon visits a special summer camp where kids are coached by stars
Sunday 16 August 2009
'Get hold of the ball, Eto'o! ... turn on it, Fabregas, ... Good skills, Henry ... keep it in, Torres! ... unlucky, Berbatov, play on." It sounds like a commentary on a new football World XI but none of the players is more than 11 years old. These kids may be just learning the sport but they have big ambitions, which they reveal – along with their preferred team – in the choice of shirts.
This is the Barbados Sports Camp, a smart idea dreamt up by the tourist board to attract more people to the island after the summer Crop Over Festival, when the number of visitors traditionally dips. Now in its third year, the scheme is proving a success with almost the full summer quota signed up by the first day.
It's an attractive idea to kids who dream of seeing their picture one day on the cover of Fifa's annual computer game – which sadly seems to have supplanted scoring the winning goal in a World Cup Final as the top footie ambition – not least because it is led by British and Caribbean sporting icons. For the parents, there's the added attraction that it's free (though you do have to buy a holiday to Barbados in the first place).
Football, cricket and netball coaching takes place over four weeks, from 4 to 28 August, at the Cave Hill campus of the University of Barbados, just outside Bridgetown. Former England and Liverpool keeper Ray Clemence, England and Worcestershire batsman Graham Hick and England netball skipper Olivia Murphy are among the stars turning out to coach the nine- to 17-year-olds.
This week the football is led by former Crystal Palace striker Mark Bright – who scored the first goal in the new Wembley Stadium. He is assisted by five local coaches with connections to the Barbados national team. Children are split into age groups and the experts rotate between them focusing on key skills, as well as playing a match or two. "This is my third year here," Bright tells me on the touchline. "The kids learn some new skills and have fun, too, which is the most important thing. But it's very hot."
Indeed, frequent water breaks are an integral part of the daily routine. Water and squash are provided free in the shade of a large canopy where two paramedics are also in attendance. Children bring a packed lunch or have a little cash for the campus cafeteria (though its burger-and-chips fare isn't the best for mini sports stars).
Camp begins promptly at 10am, Monday to Friday, and finishes at 2pm, leaving plenty of time for the beach. It's a similar regime for the cricketers who train on a ground used for warm-up games for last year's One-Day World Cup and, beyond them, there's the similarly eager young netballers.
Though the camp is mainly aimed at visiting children, locals are invited too – another aim of the scheme is to encourage friendships. Local resident Fenella has brought along her 14-year-old son Khalil. She's more than a mere football mum, Fenella manages a youth team at the Barbados Soccer Academy, one of a growing number of clubs tapping into a new generation of keen players. To play cricket for the West Indies was once the ambition of every Caribbean boy, now football is becoming the favoured sport.
Still, the goal of striking up international friendships is scored, if temporarily. The kids are shy at first but playing the game is enough to get them talking. A clash of shin-pads between my nine-year-old son, Quincy, and Jamie, a Bajan boy of the same age, provides a week's worth of gentle ribbing: "Quincy, you owe me one!".
Being confined to the canopy during the hour-long lunch break, taken when the sun is at its height – no kicking of balls allowed – encourages even the shyest to eventually get talking.
Quincy even makes friends with the only girl on the course, 11-year-old Jess from London, a graceful defender with an eye for a goal who can teach the boys a thing or two. We're only here for a week, but Jess's family are staying longer. She's in no doubt – more sports camp please mum and dad.
How to get there
Kate Simon travelled to Barbados courtesy of Thomas Cook Signature (0844 879 8015; tcsignature.com), Elegant Hotels (0800 917 3078; eleganthotels.com), and the Barbados Tourism Authority (020-7299 7175; visitbarbados.org). Seven nights at Turtle Beach costs from £1,009 per adult, £490 per child under 12, all-inclusive, including flights with Virgin Atlantic. To book this year's Barbados Sports Camp go to barbados-sports-camp.com.
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