There’s always more than one way to do something, and soccer is no different.
A youth soccer camp at the Greater Vernon Athletic Park last week showed just how different the sport can be.
Put on by the European Football School (EFS) in Vancouver and the European Football Club (EFC) Okanagan, the camp brought in coach Saibo Talic, former Bosnian soccer star to teach Vernon’s eight — 17-year-olds how to play soccer, the European way.
“By bringing Saibo, they see (that) there’s a different way of doing things,” said Ian Murphy, EFC Okanagan outdoor program coordinator, coach and South African-born soccer enthusiast.
“He travels all over the province presenting high energy training sessions that are not for the average footballer. What he and his organization demonstrate is that you don’t need to leave your place of birth to succeed at football. You can be trained by the best and it is up to the individual as to how far they want to go.”
In its first year, the Vernon camp attracted 30 kids. This year, however, 43 kids came, said Talic, who has been head coach of EFS since 1999.
“I’m very pleased with (the kids) work ethic,” said Talic, who teaches the kids the four pillars of European football: technical ability, soccer intelligence, physical ability and mental strength.
Without all four pillars, he said, the player won’t succeed.
“What we need to do here, (is teach) decision making during the game,” said Talic. “(It) is so important.”
Talic, a former soccer star prior to breaking his leg in a car crash and former prisoner in a POW camp during the Bosnian war, has had success with this tactic.
“His approach is unique and the results show,” said Murphy. “In a province where local born talent struggles to get included in the provincial MLS first team, Saibo has had numerous of his charges play on some of the biggest football stages in Europe.”
In fact, two of his players have gone on to the World Cup in South Africa and another in Brazil.
Each summer, the EFS sends a selection of younger teams to compete in California, and older teams to compete in Europe, with teams changing from year to year.
EFC Okanagan also takes kids to Talic’s school in Vancouver every month.
“We want to get kids more exposed to European soccer,” said Murphy. “That’s the kind of exposure we need.”
When Canadian soccer players finish high school, they’re still eligible to play in most European junior leagues, a historically underrepresented possibility, as most Canadians continue on to play at a university level.
“There’s more than just one way to do things,” said Murphy. “It’s really a good opportunity for the kids to excel.”
Whether you call it soccer or football, to Talic and Murphy, the camp is about sharing their love of the sport.
“It’s always a pleasure watching the kids grow,” said Murphy.
And their growth is thanks to Talic, he said.
“I think what makes Saibo such a phenomenal person is that he gives back without asking for anything in return,” said Murphy.
“Never have I heard of such a well qualified and experienced individual going to the lengths he does to promote the game. He played at the highest levels of the game in Europe and is one of the original coaches in Canada that qualified with national coaching certification. One can only think what if he instead of his classmates, he had got the top Canadian coaching position.”
Even with his 18 years as head coach of EFS, Talic doesn’t plan on quitting.
“It’s not about me, about us, it’s about the kids,” said Talic. “I will continue because these (kids,) they want to improve.
“To me, it’s satisfaction.”