Q. Our 11-year-old son lives and breathes football, and is desperate to do something soccer-related this summer, particularly since the World Cup. We've looked at the usual children's activity holidays, but wondered if there was anything more targeted out there?
Bill and Lucinda Atkins, via e-mail
A. Your first stop should be your nearest professional football club, most of which have links with Football in the Community (FITC). This is a nationwide, not-for-profit organisation that runs holiday soccer coaching for children, based at club grounds. One of the largest is based at Leeds United (0113 367 6341; www.leedsunited.com); summer courses for five-12 and 13-16-year-olds run in various locations in Yorkshire for six weeks from next Monday, 24 July, and cost £16 for a single day or £49 for four days. If your son has his eye on a professional career, this could be a good place to start: two out of three of the players in Leeds' football academy were first spotted at FITC courses.
Multi-activity summer camps such as those run by market leaders PGL (0870 050 7507; www.pgl.co.uk) and Camp Beaumont (0870 499 8787; www.campbeaumont.co.uk) may not involve much football. But don't write them off completely; ever-sensitive to the demands of modern children (and the marketing opportunities offered by the World Cup), both run specialist football breaks.
PGL's football weeks for seven-16-year-olds run throughout the summer at two of its residential centres, in Shropshire and Surrey, and involve laid-back sessions of footie training in the morning, followed by afternoons trying out sports such as abseiling or snorkelling. The cost for seven nights is £423 in Shropshire, £396 in Surrey, and includes full-board accommodation in dormitories or four-bedded tents, as well as activities.
For an extra £60 or so, you might still be able to squeeze into Camp Beaumont's World Cup holiday, so-called because participants spend mornings being taught super-speedy futbol de salao by professional coaches from the renowned Brazilian Soccer School. This is for one week only, from 12 August, at The Island, a dormitory-based Isle of Wight site. Don't worry if you miss out on it, as the company also offers standard All-Star Football weeks at two other sites throughout the summer.
If these don't sound suitably soccer-specific, two of the sport's greatest British exponents have lent their names to courses concentrating solely on the beautiful game. The Bobby Charlton Soccer and Sports Academy (01565 632 555; www.bcssa.co.uk) runs residential summer camps at Myerscough College, Preston to 11 August, for ages eight to 18, playing five to six hours of fun, skills-oriented football a day. All abilities are catered for, from absolute beginners up, and the minimum stay is five days, though girls and boys are welcome for up to three weeks. A five-day full-board stay costs £355, and includes accommodation in twin or single rooms on the campus.
The BCSSA's most famous ex-pupil now has his own school, the David Beckham Academy at an undercover site near London's Millennium Dome (020-8269 4620; www.thedavidbeckham academy.com). It runs excellent non-residential, three-, four- and five-day football camps for eight- to 15-year-olds, focusing on team-building, tactics and techniques. Prices start at £175, including lunch and, at the end of a course, a pair of Beckham-branded Adidas trainers.
For a serious, fully residential holiday coached solely by professionals, you may also want to consider an Exsportise camp (01444 444777; www.exsportise.co.uk). As the name suggests, these are activity breaks that concentrate solely on sport, whether single or multi-discipline. Its five-day football academies for 10 to 16 year-olds use Premier League coaches to teach boys and girls in two, daily, three-hour sessions. Children will be divided into ability groups, but whatever their level can expect to improve their technical skills, fitness, positional play and decision making. They will play in a tournament at the end of the week to which parents are invited. Camps run weekly throughout July and August, and cost £329, including full-board accommodation in single-sex rooms or dormitories at one of two boarding schools in southern England.
Finally, if you're booking these or any other residential children's holidays, it's always a good idea to check a few facts first. Any reputable organisation should be happy to confirm that all its staff are cleared by the Criminal Records Bureau, as well as let you know what professional qualifications they have. Feel free to ask about health, safety and security arrangements - does a member of staff sleep in dormitory buildings, for instance?
Also check whether the company is a member of the British Activity Holiday Association (020-8842 1292; www.baha.org.uk), or any national sporting bodies. And any camp that takes children under eight must also be Ofsted-inspected, which means you can ask to see a copy of its most recent report.
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