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Just for kicks: McTavish stresses fun at inaugural soccer camp

Former D.C. United player Devon McTavish, who grew up in Winchester, leads a group of players around soccer goals during the Sacred Heart Academy Summer Soccer Camp on Wednesday in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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Owen Mattens, 11, of Winchester dribbles the ball during a drill at the camp. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Winchester’s Max Thwing, 12, practices his ball handling skills at Wednesday’s camp. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Jeff Nations - jnations@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Owen Mattens was flashing some pretty nimble footwork earlier this week at Winchester's Sacred Heart Academy.

Mattens, an 11-year-old from Winchester, was taking part in a two-on-two drill which called for him to beat a defender for a shot on goal. Mattens did the job, leaving that particular defender -- former D.C. United standout Devon McTavish, no less -- spinning in his wake.

It was all in good fun, of course, part of the 2012 Summer Soccer Camp hosted by McTavish and The Soccer Pros (www.thesoccerpros.com), a staff of accomplished former collegiate and professional players.

"I've been wanting to do a camp in Winchester for some years now, and had never really been able to do a summer camp, obviously because of our schedule when I was a player," McTavish said. "So now that I have the summers free, I decided this was the year to do it and I teamed up with Bryan Namoff, a former teammate of mine."

McTavish, who grew up in Winchester and played at James Wood High School, ended his six-year professional career last year after sustaining his second concussion within a seven-month span. The same injury ended Namoff's pro career as well -- the former D.C. United defender visited camp numerous times to sign autographs and meet players.

McTavish, a West Virginia University graduate, has been working as an event coordinator for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, a group an organization he supported during his playing days as well. The camp at Sacred Heart, where his mother Rebecca McTavish serves as school principal, is the first of what could become an annual event.

"It's rewarding," McTavish said. "I don't know if I'll ever become a teacher of the game and a full-time coach, but it's one of those things where I had to take a break from soccer a little bit, just got away from it this past winter. Then this past spring, I started getting the itch a little bit and wanted to be involved."

So for five days this week, McTavish faced off against the likes of the fleet-footed Mattens. The goal, besides scoring them, was to work in a bit of information and technique.

"The philosophy is to have fun, No. 1, and then obviously I'm trying to instill some ideas into their head, just to get them thinking a little bit," McTavish said. "Obviously I only have a week with them, so I don't know how much of an impact I can make.

"But teaching them, whether it's new moves or when we worked on defensive technique and how do you approach the ball defensively, and that sort of thing. Again, it's more about having fun. All the kids just really want to play games and get rid of all their energy. It's about 10 percent teaching and 90 percent games. But you hope they walk away with something."

Mattens, one of more than 100 players attending the week-long camp, worked with the Soccer Elites (ages 10-13) group, while others drilled in Junior Pros (ages 6-9) and Mini Pros (ages 4-5).

"I thought it was pretty cool," Mattens said. "I've never really been around any pro anything, so it's pretty cool. I was really excited to come, and I was even more excited after coming the first day because it was a blast."

It hasn't been all that long since the 27-year-old McTavish was attending camps, picking up the skills and techniques which helped him transform into a professional player. Much of that work came after camp, of course, as McTavish fired shot after shot at the home-made goal -- two PVC pipes and a net -- he parents constructed in their backyard.

"With only a week, we can't really repeat, you know, like how to chip a long ball, for an hour," McTavish said. "They get tired of it within about 10 minutes.

"You try to instill technique into then, and your philosophy and what you think works. Then it's their job to go home and play with it."

So far, so good -- McTavish got positive reports from parents all week that those camp lessons are indeed sticking. They certainly were for Mattens.

"Oh yeah, Mattens said. "We're working on curving the ball, I've learned some new moves with your feet. It's been a real fun experience."

McTavish spent much of his time working with the Soccer Elites group, and he was struck by just how good many of those young players already are.

"It's funny -- you see a lot of good players, a lot better than I was when I was growing up," McTavish said. "I've seen a lot of good players here. It's funny how much talent there is out there, compared to when I was growing up. Soccer is just so much more popular."

McTavish hopes he's doing his part, through encouragement, instruction and maybe just a bit of inspiration.

"I just hope that they realize that, hey, this guy's from our hometown. He's had the same advantages that we have. He wasn't anything special and he got to play professional soccer," McTavish said. "Hopefully that's what these kids take away, that anyone can really do it. We have everything here in Winchester that you need to make that happen."


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