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  • Sam Johnson

New Maple Grove soccer academy kicks off

In the back of Maple Grove Middle School stood six miniature goals, with cones surrounding three small fields earlier this month. Exclamations of laughter and joy from kids ages six to nine filled the hot and muggy air as Twin Cities Soccer Academy kicked off its first-ever soccer camp.

Jennifer Diouf, founder and director of operations, initially started the camp in 2019 but was forced to cancel last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Diouf, who was raised in Germany before moving to the United States when she was a teenager, grew up loving soccer, or they call it over there, football. She remembers watching soccer matches with her whole family, comparing it to Americans’ love of the NFL and how football unites everyone on Sundays.

“Everyone lives and breathes soccer in Germany,” Diouf said. “It was a big family event all the time.”

However, when she arrived in the U.S., the world’s most popular sport seemed sort of like an afterthought. Two years ago, Diouf’s 6-year-old son began to express an interest in playing soccer, so she began to research prospective, full-day soccer camps in the area.

To her surprise, there were no options. “To find a soccer camp that goes all day was really rare,” she said.

So Diouf, a full-time executive assistant at ECOLab, took matters into her own hands. She did research about how local organizations run soccer camps, contacted the city of Maple Grove Parks and Recreation Department, and reached out to other soccer people, picking their brains about what it would take to create her own soccer camp.

By late 2019, all the big details were accounted for and she was just about ready to launch the camp, except one big hurdle stood in her way: finding a head coach.

She found it tough finding someone who met all the criteria: available four weeks of the summer, previous work with youth, and vast knowledge of the sport. As she pondered one night in November 2019 over who might fit the bill, a thought came into her mind. “Why don’t I ask my brother?”

Nine years older than Diouf, Swen Anderson fit every category she was looking for. Anderson, who currently lives in Germany, has coached youth soccer for nearly 15 years. And like Diouf, his life in the sport began with an interest from his son, Jeremy. “It’s funny how it starts with your kid. You get inspired by your kid and then you just continue doing it,” Diouf said.

While Anderson had the coaching and soccer love checked off, the biggest issue was the travel from Germany to the US. No problem. He would take four weeks of holiday, or vacation time, and come out to the States to coach the camp. Anderson said that even though the four weeks of vacation nearly equaled the entire year’s worth of time off, this was something he wouldn’t miss.

“I love working with kids. It’s a passion of mine,” Anderson said. “If the kids have success in something, just the tiniest thing, to see the joy in their eyes and smile on their face, that makes it worth it.”

Beginning on July 12, Twin Cities Soccer Academy began their inaugural week of camps, hosting 23 kids ages 6 to 9 years of age. From scrimmages to drills and snack time, the camp’s goal is to bring kids together to grow in talent and love of the sport, and also develop life skills along the way

“It is a really great sport for kids,” Diouf said. “It gives them a lot of advantages growing up — leadership, following instruction, being quick thinkers.”

Off the pitch, Diouf and the Academy are doing their part to impact the community they serve. Two weeks ago, they hosted a fundraiser at a local German immersion school. Parents would pay for their kids to participate in the soccer camp, and all the money would be given back to the school. Over the week, they raised $2,000.

With every smile or high-five from a kid comes fulfillment for Diouf and the three other coaches on staff. While the United States might not be the world’s epicenter for soccer, the kids at camp don’t think like that. Ask any kid there who was their favorite soccer player and you would get an answer from Kylian Mbappe to Megan Rapinoe.

Two years ago, Twin Cities Soccer Academy didn’t exist. Now, it seeks not just to survive, but to thrive and bring excitement in the community. “I couldn’t have asked to work with a better first group of kids,” Diouf said. “I just really want to keep that positive vibe in the community that we are here.”

Copyright © 2021 at Sun Newspapers/ APG Media of East Central Minnesota. Digital dissemination of this content without prior written consent is a violation of federal law and may be subject to legal action.

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