Soccer Camp Review: Manchester United Soccer Schools (“MUSS”)

We made the trip over the pond and took our 11-year-old to Manchester United Soccer School.  This is a 6 day camp.  The location of the boys camp was Denstone College – a Boarding School south of Stoke.

The Location – Denstone College

IMG_1945Denstone College is usually a boarding school for boys focusing on athletics.  As a result, they have a lot of playing fields available for training.  The residential and main hall looks like something from a Harry Potter movie.  In fact, they told us it was on a list of finalist for filming locations.  I have to admit, the drive in was concerning … Denstone is a small village in the middle of nowhere.  It is not close to Manchester so you start to wonder  what you have signed up for.  Then, when you turn into the drive, wow…

The dorm rooms were set for 6-8 boys.  They honor room requests (as best they can).  Since there are so many boys to a room, it is reasonably likely your player will be with his mate.  Each boy has a bed, desk, and about 6 drawers.  The bathroom facilities are nice – private showers and toilets.

Registration/Check-In

We showed up near the end of the check in so there was a slow-moving line.  As a result, we missed the junior intro but they said just come back for senior intro.  There is staff everywhere and you go from registration room with a personal escort (a coach) to your dorm room.  On the way, you stop to put your valuables with another staff member.  Seamless and easy and professional.

What You Get

IMG_1940 (4)Room and Board and a Manchester United Training Kit with a matching Rain jacket (great idea).  The kit is a long sleeve nike red top with logo and a pair of white shorts and one pair of black socks.  There is no need for extra money although people left players lots. We left our son $20 and he didn’t spend it.

For the two-week course, instead of going to Old Trafford, you got to a theme park (Alton Towers) — yes the one where there was recently a horrible accident on a coaster.  But, as my host says, this is a very cool park.

The Price

The price for the 6 day camp was about $1500 US.  By comparison, the Dynamo Residential Elite 3.5 day camp is $850 US.  If you go for the 2 week camp, they usually run some discounts for the second week.  But, on a day-for-day basis, they are about the same price.  Neither is cheap and this is where you have to decide what you want out of the camp. If you are going to get evaluated, don’t bother.  I doubt any of the MUSS coaches work for United.  If you want to know what it feels like to be a professional footballer, this is the camp.  The living arrangements, scenery, and closing day at Old Trafford make this worth it to me.

The Quality of Players

IMG_2002Mixed.  It is open enrollment so all levels.  There are high level players but the camp is not dedicated to them.   One thing that is neat about this camp is that there were players from 36 different countries represented of 188 players.  My son’s best mate was from Kenya.  That is something you will not get from other places.

One thing you have to remember as an American attending, your kid will be immersed in European culture.  And, in some countries, their young men use language that you normally wouldn’t hear in the US at 11.  That was the one negative (among very little feedback) we got from the player.

The Quality of Staff

As you are unable to watch training sessions, hard to say.  My son is coach-loyal (loves coaches) and he is just 11 so hard to get a read from him.  The only thing I did learn for sure was that in the games, he let them sort themselves out and didn’t mix in or offer help.  I wish coaches intervened more in these situations.  Our kids come from a family of 5 where the motto is if you ask for it, you get the opposite.  In athletics, they never ask to play a position or demand it.  From my experience coaching kids, especially in camps, some kids need some help to be team players.  The kids that are penalized are the ones with better manners.

IMG_2066 (2)The coach played in the Swansea organization through his youth.  Low 20s.  Very nice guy.  He did not complete the evaluation but let my son complete it.  He did tease my son for calling him Sir.  (It’s a Southern thing).

Professionalism

Off the hook.  These guys know how to run a professional camp.  From the first moment you arrive, there is no doubt what is going on and what you need to do.  All dressed in official clothes (Man Utd).   And staff are everywhere.  The opening presentation was impressive with a breakdown for the week as well as a summary of Manchester Ideals.  Very good.

Communication

The camp does a good job with a Facebook page for the camp and posting pictures.  We were in the first week so there was not as much as the later weeks.  My son is not one to bother with communication so we heard little for him but he was not homesick and had a great time.

Closing Ceremony

For the players, this was a great day.  For the adults, not so much.  The players arrived at Old Trafford, ate lunch, went to shop, locker room tour, walked through tunnel, and ended in a Director’s Box.  Van Gaal was doing a presser with Memphis Depay on the field when we were there.  The players were just feet away from the presser.  They then marched them out (in stadium seats – not allowed to get on field).  I think for them, it was amazing.  For parents, you were mainly there to collect your player.  Short presentation.  Each kid got a medal.

Overall

I didn’t know what to expect with this camp.  Previously, had sent kids to University of Texas, LSU, local college, etc.  I think where this camp grades strongest is that the kids leave the camp loving soccer more.  I am not sure how much more you want from a camp than that.  The location and surroundings are beautiful.  The staff is uber-professional and littered with former professional players.  My son left with a greater passion for the game.  That is the best ROI I could ask for.  Do I wish they would encourage better language … yes.  But, as my English friend told me, it is more a cultural thing.

In terms of player evaluations, I just do not think that camps are the way to go.  There is a camp in England called the International Football Development Academy (iFDA) that may offer more concrete information and feedback and is allegedly attended by scouts.  I am looking into it and will post information when I get it.

Conclusion

After picking him up, again, he is not that talkative (I had one coach assume from that he doesn’t like soccer.)  He is a shy kid but I asked him if he learned a lot about soccer and he said he learned the same stuff we already do but from a different perspective and he liked it.  I asked if he would want to go back, he wasn’t sure.  This was his first residential experience and he went alone.  I think he was most put off by the language of the other campers.  He wants to be a professional footballer.

After attending the Dynamo Camp, I asked which he preferred.  He preferred the Manchester Camp.  My older son, who did not go to the Manchester Camp but did attend the Dynamo Camp said that if he went next summer, he would prefer the England experience, but had a good time at the Dynamo camp.  I can review the Dynamo camp separately.

Soccer Camp – Is it Worth It?

IMG_2001 (1)We are halfway through what soccer coaches refer to as “camp season.”  This is the time that paid coaches for clubs have available time to make some extra money in the form of “camps.”  And that is the first thing that your should know … camps are about money to clubs and coaches not skill development of individual players.

I am writing this from two perspectives:  (1) as a parent who has spent a lot of money on soccer camps, and (2) as a professional coach (I am paid per team that I coach) who is very demanding on preparation and teaching in sessions.

Observations:

(1) Skill level of participants is mixed.  There will usually be a few high level players, but a lot of weak players.  If a camp is open enrollment, meaning all skill levels allowed, the competition and quality of the sessions will be mixed.  Most camps are open enrollment because, remember, these are money-makers, not skill-makers.  How can they realistically promote player development when you have everyone from beginning recreation player to a highly skilled player in the same session?  We would never allow that at club-level training.IMG_2002

(2) Quality of coaching is mixed to poor.  From what I have seen, the coaches are young, inexperienced coaches but former or current players.  The only value coaches like that have is to inspire the players by their presence as, usually, they lack the ability to teach the game to young players.  There may be some top youth coaches mixed in, but, from my experience, most of the coaches are young and inexperienced in teaching the game. But, as your player is not realistically going to gain increase in skill in a short camp, fun and inspiration from a former player may be the perfect thing.  Just do not expect a good evaluation of the players.

I have sent kids to the following camps:  Lamar University (multiple times), University of Texas (residential), LSU (residential), Dynamo Elite Residential Camp (residential), as well as Manchester United Soccer Schools.  I have sent kids at very high skill levels to middle skill level.  So, here is my two cents:

(1)  If you are putting your kid in a camp to improve their skill or further their technical development, you are wasting your money.  That kind of progress is not going to happen in 3-6 days.  Yea, they may learn a new trick, but you won’t see much else.  If this is your prime motivator, don’t spend the money.  Rather, put your child in a year long training program focusing on player development.   If you are near a Coerver training program, and your kid is accepted into their academy, that is your best hope to improve ball mastery because that is their primary focus (not team development).

(2)  If you are putting your kid into camp to have fun, perfect.  It is expensive but this is a more realistic goal if you are looking for ROI.  They get to stay in a dorm, meet new players, hang out with other like-minded kids.

(3)  If you are putting your kid into camp to further their love of the game, some camps can deliver on that.  If you can find a camp that delivers here, it is worth it.  In other words, if they leave camp wanting to play more soccer, touch the ball more, talk about the game,  then you got a solid ROI.  If the camp doesn’t deliver here, you are really wasting your money.

(4)  If you are putting your player in to get a solid evaluation, you will be disappointed.  Remember, camp coaches are usually young, inexperienced coaches.  The top coaches at the clubs are not coaching at the camps.  So, while a former player for Swansea may be fun, do not look for him to give your player a quality evaluation.  At one camp, the coach gave the evaluation form to the players to let them complete it.  That tells you everything you need to know.

Evaluating players is serious business.  It requires focus and energy.  You have to be willing to pay close attention to the player.  It means that you may have to intervene — if a precocious player is dominating coaching time and play on the pitch, move kids around and see what happens.  Players come in all shapes and sizes with different personalities.  The coaches in a short camp do not have the energy or interest in looking beyond the superficially obvious observations.    Your best bet to get a solid evaluation is ask your regular coach.  In addition, find out what youth coaches, no matter the club, take it seriously and bring your player to them.

Remember, many of these camps charge as much for 3-4 days as your club does for training for a year.  If you want technical improvement, find a coach that values that.  If you don’t know one, find a licensed Coerver coach.  Since they do not care about team success, they are only focused on individual player growth.  It is the only program I am aware of that you can be 100% certain that your kid will improve in individual ball touching, dribbling, etc.