Smoky Mountains Soccer Academy

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Last spring, Smoky Mountains Soccer Academy started operating in Gatlinburg, at the multi-million dollar facility known as Rocky Top Sports World. It costs $100 per child for ten weeks. The practice is one hour on a weekday. They have no games over the weekend.

Smoky Mountain Soccer Academy - players and coaches

Smoky Mountain Soccer Academy – my son’s group of players and coaches

The main coach is a teacher and a soccer coach in the public school system and he said, “I believe weekends are for the family. Plus, I need my weekends off. I’m a teacher.” I could not agree with him more. Continue reading »

This is actually an answer to prayer because my husband wanted the kids enrolled in a team sport and it was virtually impossible to find anything that did not involve weekend hours. We also like to keep weekends for the family and not for sporting activities per se.

Personally, I think children can develop very well even without a team sport. This is not about preparing them for a career. This is more about fun and physical education.

But I have seen a lot of character growth in my children from being involved in soccer. As always, my husband has good instincts. This reminds me of one of the early dates he and I had. When he was telling me how he dealt with a delicate business situation, I remarked that he was probably the most humble and amazing leader I have ever met.

Soccer coach and young players

Coach Zach Schrandt and my daughter’s age group

So I asked him, “How did you get to have such an amazing character?” He replied simply, “Football.” I teared up right then and there, in the middle of a restaurant. My then boyfriend started looking around, hoping that people will not think he said something horrible which made me cry. So I burst out laughing, because he was just so worried about me first of all and then about himself.

Of all the crazy things people say about football, this rough, manly, tackle-them-down, tough sport, I had never heard this one. My husband is a gentle, gentle soul. And he learned his gentleness in football? What am I missing? That is why I was crying. I had been taught by conservative Christians that football and any other competitive sport is against the gospel message. That we should shun such activities like the plague. And here was proof positive that football, like anything, is what you make of it. Such a breath of fresh air!

Since then, we have decided that soccer at Smoky Mountain Soccer Academy should be part of our homeschool for several reasons:

  1. It is closer to home than driving to Berean Christian School for their soccer practice on Wednesdays.
  2. Adidas sponsors the program. It may be small now, but is has potential for growth.
  3. The coaches are all certified by different national organizations.
  4. It is good exercise for the kids.
  5. They get to interact with other children.
  6. They receive guidance from somebody other than mom and dad.
  7. They spend time in fresh air and sunshine.
  8. They play games. Especially my daughter’s group, the youngest players, they pretend they are sharks or elephants or whatever and they run after the ball a certain way, they control the ball so the other sharks don’t get it etc. It’s a lot of fun for the kids. I could not provide this kind of fun in my backyard. I just don’t have the energy to learn about this and implement it.
  9. They learn soccer skills. You see, they don’t just give them a ball and say, “Now go play soccer.” The coach to children ratio is very low, 1:4-1:8. They learn to dribble and control the ball through very closely observed exercises.
  10. Soccer scouts come by regularly. A soccer scholarship does not interest me as much as a National Merit Scholarship, I will be honest with you. But you never know what children like to do when they finally grow up.

Since spring, we have done a Soccer Camp at SMSA and now we just enrolled them for the fall. It has worked out beautifully with our schedule. Things have a way of working out.

Soccer Camp

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Last week, my children attended Soccer Camp. The official title of this event was Elite Camp and it was organized by Smoky Mountain Soccer Academy. They met Monday-Friday, 9am-11am.

Soccer camp for ages 3-6

My daughter (red shirt) with her age group and Coach Zach plus assistants.

The weather was nice. We had two days with overcast skies, so the sun did not beat on us too badly. However, my children still got quite a tan during the rest of the days, despite the sunblock I applied on their faces, arms, and legs. Continue reading »

They split the children in several age groups: 3-6, 7-9, 10-13 and high school. Since my daughter is six and my son is eight, they were in separate groups. Some of the coaches were originally from England, former players in the Premier League, but they coach at high school and college level here in the US right now. We enjoyed listening to their British accent, of course. It makes you want to get on a plane for London just to immerse yourself in those sounds for a few days.

Water balloon fight at soccer camp

Water balloons were a hit, especially as the sun came out in full force by 10am.

The kids learned a lot about soccer and loved running around and making new friends. The coach for ages 3-6 played an amazing array of games with them. Games about sharks, pirates, giraffes, all sorts of things – one would never know this was about soccer if one was not watching.

Soccer Camp for young children

Lots of assistant coaches for the youngest players

This young set of players loved it, of course, and poured their heart out to play these games, probably not even realizing they were learning to dribble the ball and do all sorts of soccer tricks.

Soccer camp ages 7-9

My son (green shorts) at soccer camp – the only boy in his age group

I made some new friends on the sidelines as well. I met some wonderful parents who love their children very much and we had stimulating conversations about educational choices and how the direction of the American educational system has gone downhill since John Dewey came onto the scene with his progressive ideas in the 1930s.

Great fun was had by all and we shall return to Smoky Mountain Soccer Academy for their fall semester.

Soccer as P.E. – Interview with Coach Mike McDonald

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What about P.E. when you homeschool? Personally, I think that physical education can very well be accomplished in the back yard, and in nature, through biking, hiking, swimming, walking and running. Tossing a ball at the playground and pulling up on monkey bars should count as physical exercise, as well.
Besides all that, I wanted my son involved in a team sport. In addition to physical activity, he gets to be in a group, listen to instructions, and feel like he is a part of something bigger than himself. As a European, I felt more interested in soccer than American football or baseball.
We found a local Christian school which offers a soccer camp through the summer and a soccer practice once a week through the school year. They welcome homeschoolers. My son does not have to be on their school soccer team, but he gets to mingle with all these kids and learn some soccer skills, which help with coordination and gross motor skills.
Here’s my interview with my son’s soccer coach, Mike McDonald, originally from England:
Homeschool Ways: How did an English professional soccer player end up as a soccer coach at Berean Christian School in Knoxville, TN?Mike McDonald: I came to the US in 1996, working for a soccer camp coaching company that employs British coaches, called British Soccer. We did camps all over the US and, amongst others, I did a camp in Morristown. The family I spent a week with were determined to keep me in the US, so they tried to get me a ‘blind date!’ They chose Lori, who is now my wife.

Soccer Coach Mike McDonald

Coach Mike McDonald and some of his students


Homeschool Ways: That is wonderful! Please tell us more about your family.

Mike McDonald: Lori and I have been happily married for 15 years. EllieAnn, 11, is an avid reader. She loves playing with her sister, enjoys basketball and soccer, and especially hanging out with her MUM! LivyLea is 9 and is a creative girl, always making and creating. She loves her sister equally. They make up many songs and are great with their brother, too. Livy is a basketball fan and is making big strides! Maxwell, 4, is focused on being silly and stubborn, but super lovable! He follows his sisters around and stands too close to the TV!


Soccer Coach Mike McDonald and family

Coach Mike McDonald and family


Homeschool Ways: I know you are a Christian and you work for two private Christian schools. How do you apply biblical principles to playing soccer? Is competition of any sort compatible with biblical principles?

Mike McDonald: I see soccer as a fantastic vehicle to reach people for Jesus. I see the roller coaster of emotions that sport offers and feel that it is often the toughest environment for us. This gives me a platform to encourage young people in better ways to act and react in the tough times. My personal biblical integration has simply been, ‘What would Jesus do.’

Athletes, especially those at Berean Christian School, struggle with the competitive nature as Christians. I think Jesus would have been a competitor and simply followed the rules. He may have accidentally fouled, perhaps even injured an opponent, but it would not have been in His heart.

This is perhaps the opportunity I use most at BCS. ‘As long as you are playing within the rules, don’t be concerned about hurting others. If you are, then you will not play to your potential.’ Jesus doesn’t talk directly about sports in His Word, but He does address following rules and doing your best in ALL that you do.

I teach children about controlling their reactions, acting correctly when the game is over, and, particularly, understanding the power of positive words on and off the field. I believe Jesus would have been hard working, committed, a team player, and positive of mind, especially in encouraging others.


Soccer Coach Mike McDonald's children

Coach Mike’s adorable children


Homeschool Ways: What about the argument that when one plays sports, one has to act like one goes right just to trick the opponent and get them off balance, so that one can actually go left?

Mike McDonald: I believe that sports were created for enjoyment and to test/challenge us in adversity. I do not see ‘tricking an opponent’ as a biblical negative, but as a necessary method that is ‘within the laws’ of successfully beating them. For me, it is about your heart. If throwing a player off balance is allowed in the rules and you are doing it with the right heart (to attempt success) rather than to embarrass/have ego, then it is good. I see it more as a challenge for the opponent. How is he/she going to deal with being beaten?


Homeschool Ways: What about the argument that team sports are like re-enacting battles – except the punches are missing?

Mike McDonald: Soccer can feel and often look like a battle re-enactment! Again, it is the heart that reveals. If you approach soccer with an overly aggressive spirit and focus on hurting, then you are wrong. Those teams that succeed in pleasing Christ, I feel, are those whose hearts are right in that they have set their minds in being successful within the rules.


Homeschool Ways: Which team did you think would win the World Cup?

Mike McDonald: Having seen the World Cup, I must say that I thought Argentina were going to beat Chile in the Final. It did not surprise me that Germany won. They were the best team beforehand, and found their form to prove it by winning!