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Kids get kick out of new soccer academy

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Ricky Burke and Allan Flott know fancy footwork and what it's like to compete in large stadiums in front of cheering crowds. What gives them the most satisfaction these days, however, is passing along their love of soccer, or "football" as much of the world calls it, to young people.

The duo created Players Soccer Academy last spring to help students at diocesan schools grow in confidence, friendship and character - all while enjoying "a sport close to our hearts," said Burke.

Meeting on a summer league soccer team a few years ago, both Burke and Flott attended Arlington Catholic schools; Burke went to St. Thomas More Cathedral School, Flott to St. Agnes and Bishop O'Connell High School.

Their faith-based education and soccer defined their childhoods. Burke's English father is a former professional soccer player and coach, so "soccer is definitely in my blood," he said. After playing for the under-18 D.C. United Academy team, a competitive program run by the Washington-based professional club, Burke moved to Scotland to play professionally and earn a degree in business. Eventually returning to Virginia, he competed with the Richmond Kickers.

Flott also played for D.C. United Academy as a teen before being recruited to play Division I soccer at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

The friends have spent years coaching in various capacities, and the soccer academy reflects their experience, said Amy Fry, director of St. Charles Borromeo Early Childhood Education Center in Arlington. The school is one of six in the diocese to host the after-school academy programs.

"Being gifted at something doesn't make you a good teacher," Fry said, "but (Flott and Burke) are excellent with kids and put a lot of thought into age-appropriate skills and drills.

"The children adore it," she added.

Danielle Sigwalt, whose 4-year-old attends the academy at St. Charles, said her son talks about it all the time. "I'm just thrilled with the joyful environment these coaches create," she said.

The programs also are offered at St. John Academy in McLean; Corpus Christi Early Childhood Education Center and Corpus Christi School, both in Falls Church; St. Andrew the Apostle School in Clifton; and St. Veronica School in Chantilly. Flott and Burke hope to expand to additional diocesan schools.

A Mini Soccer Academy for preschoolers and pre-kindergartners includes eight weekly 45-minute sessions. "It's an introduction to soccer that features movement and balance exercises," said Flott. They also run an hourlong program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, which offers more technical skills, such as dribbling and passing.

"We want to engage the kids physically and mentally while also instilling good communication, teamwork and sportsmanship - all the virtues we learned at Catholic schools," said Flott.

Starting in June, the academy will host a series of diocesan-wide summer camps at several locations, including Corpus Christi School, St. Veronica and Christendom College in Front Royal. The camps are a way to bring students from around the diocese together and "create friendships that will hopefully continue," said Flott.

Although Burke and Flott were stand-out athletes, their focus is not developing professional soccer players. "So many clubs cater to elite soccer players, but we want the students to just have fun and enjoy a new sport with friends," said Burke.

"We're really happy to pass along the sport we love," added Burke, "as well as a little of our knowledge to kids."

Find out more

To learn more about Players Soccer Academy after-school programs and camps, go to theplayerssocceracademy.com, email playerssocceracademy@gmail.com, or call 703/598-5039 or 571/594-7094.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016