June 5, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina men’s soccer coach Mark Berson is always on the lookout for young talent, but he also wants to help continue to grow the game. Berson’s soccer camps have been doing just that for four decades now, and that experience is critical to their continued success.
“We’ve been doing camps for 40 years now,” Berson said. “There aren’t too many who have been doing it as long as we have. So experience is one thing. The ability to bring in a good staff because of that experience is another thing. We have guys come to our camp as staff and they learn how to run a summer camp. They leave with our curriculum and it spreads out through the state. That’s all good because we know we’re doing the right things.
“Not only do we have families that have been sending their kids to our camp for many years, but we also have legacies. We’ve had parents who had come to camp as kids, and now their kids are coming to camp. That’s fun.”
Berson hosts winter and spring ID camps, which target high school aged prospects, and also holds overnight and day camps for younger boys ages 5-16 in June and July.
“We have two things that we always want to see for the kids and that’s to learn soccer and to have fun,” Berson said. “It doesn’t matter if they are a prospect level or they’re five years old. We want them to leave having had a lot of fun, and to know that they learned something. For a prospect, we’re trying to teach them a few little things that will really help them.”
To put themselves in the best position to be recruited, it’s important that they do a lot of different things, and I would put going to summer camp as one of those things that is important.
The ID camps not only help high school players hone their skills, but also serve as a vehicle for exposure for the athletes to the South Carolina program.
“I liked that the players helped coach the camps and that a lot of the recruits from my class also came,” said former Gamecock Koty Millard (2013-2016) who attended Berson’s camp while in high school. “The main thing I took out of it was how great it was to play with all of the elite players from all over the country. There were guys that flew in to go to the camp. You had the chance to make friends with some of them.”
“It’s been a good incubator for players and coaches,” Berson said. “It helps them get in contact with our staff and see what we do. By coming to our ID camps, they get the opportunity to come and see our campus, and we get the chance to work with them individually. To put themselves in the best position to be recruited, it’s important that they do a lot of different things, and I would put going to summer camp as one of those things that is important.”
That can translate into a natural progression of talented players choosing to continue their careers while pursuing an education at South Carolina.
“A number of guys on our team have come through our camps,” Berson said. “We encourage them at certain age to come so we can see them play, and a lot of local guys came through the camps as young kids when they were growing up as well. A lot of coaches in the area have worked our camps as they were coming up as young coaches and they’ve gone on to be high school coaches.”
The future South Carolina student-athletes can also benefit from getting to know more about the program at a different level.
“I’d say it made the transition from high school to college a little easier because I had the chance to talk to the players above me who I didn’t know but that I would be playing with,” Millard said. “Getting to know those players and the recruits I didn’t already know was good to so you could get a feel about how everyone plays.”
For the summer day camps that target younger players, the focus is on both fun and learning.
“We have half and full day programs, and for a lot of kids, it may be the first time they have been to a soccer camp or they’re just getting into the game,” Berson said. “That’s really a fun, fun time. We teach the technique so they see the picture, and they learn by doing. So there’s lots of repetition and over time, they perfect the skills. The most important thing is to have fun, because if they leave and haven’t had fun, then we didn’t accomplish what we needed to do.”
While Berson’s program may later reap the benefits of having talented youngsters return to wear the Garnet and Black, he and the other instructors get plenty of personal satisfaction from the experience as well.
“You follow them and say ‘wow, I remember when he was seven or eight years old,” Berson said. “I can remember when certain high school coaches came through our camps as eight and nine year olds. Now they’ve built great high school programs.
“I was working out in the football weight room a while back, and in comes (former South Carolina offensive line) Coach Shawn Elliot. He had just been hired from Appalachian State, so I introduced myself, and he told me that he came to my soccer camp when he was in high school. So that was pretty neat.”
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