OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A select group of athletes from the Omaha PACE program, which teams at risk youth up with police officers through sport, had the opportunity this week to learn from some of the best soccer coaches in the world.
The players, aged eight through ten, are learning from coaches at Glasgow Rangers FC, one of the top professional soccer teams in Europe. The group learned drills meant for more experienced players.
"Basically these kids are the top-tier kids in the 8, 9, 10-year old group and we ask the coaches to send us their best kids because at the end of the day not only do we want these kids to learn some of the top skills in the world but to be able to pass that on to their local team," said Officer Antonio Espejo from the Omaha Police Gang Unit and a liaison between PACE and the Omaha Police Department. "One kid told one of our recruiters I finally get my chance. Just the level of training these coaches provide is probably something these kids would not have seen."
While many of the top soccer camps in Omaha can be expensive, this camp is free to all participants.
"If you put this camp anywhere else in Omaha these kids would not be able to afford it," Espejo said. "These kids would not have this opportunity otherwise."
"I think it's awesome for the kids just to get a perspective of soccer from a different country," said Graeme Eaglesham, an assistant coach at Bellevue University and an instructor at the camp. "I think it's awesome for the kids to get that chance when they wouldn't have gotten it otherwise."
Eaglesham was a fan of Rangers FC growing up and got PACE organizers in contact with the club's international coaching department. Though college coaches frequently help out at camps, Eaglesham said this group of athletes were different than the usual camp attendees.
"I think they're a little bit hungrier, they have a little bit more bite about them and a little more work ethic and you can see it when you coach them, it's a bit more rewarding when they know they're getting an opportunity and they're eager to grasp it," Eaglesham said.
"The opportunity is what they make of it and it's up to them if they want to learn but they've been really receptive so far," said Aaron Fitzsimons, a coach with Rangers FC.
"It's really good," said Emilio Lopez, a fourth grader attending the camp. "I just like it. I have challenges when I play."
Some of the kid's parents work multiple jobs meaning it's tough to pick up their kids from camp so the PACE officers pick up and drop off the kids every morning.
"Their skin in the game is to bring the appropriate equipment and wait outside their house to be picked up and give 110-percent all week," Espejo said. "We want them to get better but more importantly take the skills they learn with us and bring them back to their own teams."
Not only are the kids benefiting from the professional coaches. PACE relies heavily on volunteer coaches, so the Rangers FC coaches are running a free coaching for them so they can be better coaches for PACE programs.
For more on Omaha PACE, head to their website.