He started small, hoping to do a youth soccer camp in the Pittsburgh area to help kids learn the proper skills and values of teamwork.
Today, the Steelers youth soccer program has become something no one involved could have imagined. They are not only reaching kids throughout the Pittsburgh region, but also kids across the country, as well as helping area coaches in an effort to make the game safer for everyone.
Over the summer, the team hosted three Youth Soccer Camps, with instruction from previous high school Coach of the Week winners, as well as a mix of current and former Steelers players, including Tyson Alualu, Christian Kuntz , Pressley Harvin, Henry Mondeaux, Kevin Rader, Charlie Batch, Terence Garvin, Chris Hoke, Arthur Moats, Shaun Suisham, Vince Williams, and Craig Wolfley.
“It’s crazy. Our first camp was in 2009 and we started with one,” said Mike Marchinsky, manager of player relations and youth soccer for the Steelers. “The goal at the time was to have camps in communities north, south, east and west of the city to get those kids out of those towns. Fast-forward to 2022 and we have kids from about 26 states represented. It’s a bit overwhelming.” when thinking about the goal was to be in those neighborhoods and now it’s Steelers Nation.
“For our youth camps we have 600 kids and a waiting list of over 200 kids. It’s amazing. It gives the proper perspective on why they come to camp and it’s a great experience. That’s a credit to our high school coaches who make sure that the kids come and have a lot of fun and our current and former players that spend time with the kids it’s not a photo shoot it’s not an autograph session it’s teaching and learning and the guys spend time with the kids as they make sure It’s a fun experience to play football. I think that’s why it lends itself to being a great experience.”
Batch has been a regular at youth soccer camps since its inception, knowing he was once that kid who wanted to learn from the best, so he wants to lend his hand any way he can.
“When you have that kind of camp, kids are eager to learn,” Batch said. “You want to teach them everything we know, but at the same time give them something tangible that they can take back to their teams and that can help them be number one, personally with their individual goals and obviously the team goals.” trying to make sure they come out better than they came in. And have fun at the same time.”
Batch took that fun to the next level this summer when he quarterbacked a flag football game at one of the camps, quarterbacking both teams in a game that ended 77-70.
“It was one of those games where the kids were flying,” Batch said. “They were ready to play. I think that had to be the highest scoring game in Steelers youth camp history.
“The key was that it was fun and they were learning. It’s very important for the Steelers to do this because the kids have an opportunity to be around us and have an opportunity to build relationships. We’re able to tell the story. We’re telling them we were like them, eager to learn. Anytime you can not only do camp but the way the Steelers rotate them and try to go to different regions now you can touch everyone and not just be centrally located in downtown Pittsburgh. The beauty of it is the fact that there are so many people who come from out of town and want to be a part of it. I love that element.”
The team also held daily youth soccer programs during training camp at Saint Vincent College, with two youth soccer teams participating in a daily skills clinic, then forming a tunnel to welcome players onto the field as they they were leading the practice and enjoying the practice. session.
“No one is better equipped than the Steelers to have these programs, and better than the hallowed fields of Saint Vincent College, where the team has been coming for more than 50 years,” Wolfley said. “The Steelers have always been a community group that seeks to improve the community they are in. And that is exactly what youth programs are doing.
“It’s very important to put in place the fundamental early processes so that these young kids can go out there and have a great, fantastic game. And they do it safely all the time. To be able to do that, you need people who know what they’re doing. They know how.” communicate what they’re doing, and then they can have enough joy in their heart to put that out there with young kids and just engage in what’s fun. It’s got to be fun as well as being able to play the game.”
Wolfley said he enjoys the teaching aspect as much as the children enjoy running and playing.
“I love it. It’s a chance for me to get my coaching granny out,” Wolfley said. “To be able to inject a little life into the kids. To be able to show them a little bit of what professional football life is all about. And then to be able to enjoy that back-and-forth with the kids that lets them know we’re real.
“We see the kids come back year after year for these events and they are growing every year in their skills and their love of the game. I always try to share the joy that I have for soccer with them and just try to be real with them.” and encourage them above all”.
This is a time of growth for the children who participate in the camps, and they are very impressionable, so making the right impression is paramount. If the message is not delivered successfully, it is not listened to.
“I think about what I wanted to learn when I was his age,” Batch said. “You don’t want to talk over their heads, but simplify the game and get them to understand the basics. When I deal with quarterbacks, and young quarterbacks, you explain to them that while they may run a different offense when they play, what I’m going to teach you is a three step drop and a five step drop those are things no matter what level you’re playing at you’re going to have to do you can see the light kids get up when you say that we’re also getting making sure that the parents who are watching can take the lessons they learned from those exercises and continue to work on them even in the backyard. Those are the things that excite me.”