Coach puts an accent on soccer practice

A virtual Pied Piper as soon as he arrives at a soccer field, Darren Crook is surrounded by preteens. Some bring him hot dogs to eat, others ask off-the-wall questions such as whether he once had pierced ears.

A virtual Pied Piper as soon as he arrives at a soccer field, Darren Crook is surrounded by preteens. Some bring him hot dogs to eat, others ask off-the-wall questions such as whether he once had pierced ears.

Crook takes it all in stride and responds back in an English accent that has the 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds lip reading as much as listening in order to understand what the native of Salisbury, England, has to say.

This marks the second consecutive summer that Crook has come to Duluth from southern England, near Stonehenge, to help coach in the East Select Soccer youth program. He hopes it's not his last.

"I enjoyed it so much last year that I asked to come back," Crook said Saturday at Arlington Soccer Complex, where ESS was hosting the ninth annual Lake Superior Open. "I can't wait to get back [to Duluth]; I hate going home. I would like to move here eventually."

The 25-year-old has been coaching the U-9, U-10 and U-11 girls teams and running striking and goaltending clinics since arriving June 9 in Duluth, where he is staying with the Friday family. He's one of three foreign coaches volunteering at ESS this summer, continuing the trend the club began soon after its inception in 1997. ESS co-founder Shawn Roed estimates the club has utilized nearly 30 coaches from overseas.


"They give us a different perspective and bring a different viewpoint, and that's something that the kids enjoy," said Roed, the director of student activities at Duluth East and former Greyhounds girls soccer coach. "A lot of them come back three or four times because they have such a great experience."

This marks the second straight summer that Neil Condon, 31, has come to Duluth from Brisbane, Australia. Until recently, Condon worked as director of coaching for the Highland Club, an organization along the Gold Coast that is comprised of 36 traveling teams, 22 recreational teams and more than 800 girls.

Condon has been coaching 11-, 12-, 14- and 17-year-olds the last three weeks, and the former University of St. Francis (Ind.) player and one-time member of Australia's U-16 and U-18 national teams is awed by their play.

"I'm quite impressed with the level of female soccer in the state -- the development of youth soccer is amazing," he said. "I'm also very impressed with the philosophy and goals set out by the board of ESS. I wanted to be a part of it."

ESS organizers see a dual benefit that not only improves the players' level, but also helps introduce new methods of teaching and advice for area-based coaches.

"The foreign coaches come over and coach the kids in skills and mentor the local coaches so that, hopefully, they will continue their coaching career at a higher level," said Jim Landwehr, president of ESS.

After his professional playing days with a club team in Salisbury ended due to injury, Crook has been coaching six years -- most recently with the U-16 to U-18 boys team at Salisbury High School. He tried to form a Salisbury girls team, but found their skill level and attitude lacking compared to the U.S. He said he likes the set-up at ESS and enjoys helping the girls work on their fundamentals and confidence.

"Coaching is a nice way to stay in the sport," he said.


The girls seem to appreciate their efforts.

"You learn ball skills, you learn accuracy. They are the best of the best," said Duluth East junior-to-be Natalie Landwehr, who plays for the ESS U-17 team. "And they're so passionate, it's insane."

The younger Landwehr grew so attached to a pair of ESS's former English coaches -- Matt Beard and Iver Gumm -- that she plans to visit them when she flies to London on Monday.

"One of the main draws for ESS is having a coach with an accent," she said.

* ESS defeated the Gitchi Gummi Classic 2 team 3-0 and Maplebrook 1-0 on Saturday to advance to the U-17 final at 2 p.m. today at Arlington. Their opponent likely will be Gitchi Gummi Classic 1, which won 6-0 and 8-0 Saturday and faces Proctor at 8 a.m. today at Public Schools Stadium.

RICK WEEGMAN can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or by e-mail at .

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