featured image

Sarah Pedrozo shares a summer ministry she started a decade ago that helps kids pray together and play in the great outdoors. 

Tweet! Tweet! Tweeeet! The referee blew the whistle and finished the game. With that, Catholic Soccer Camp 2024 came to an end.   

Standing under the trees several feet away, I noticed a group of second- or third-grade boys and girls gathering up their belongings from the field. After a quick huddle and conversation among themselves, they straggled up the hill, kicking their soccer balls in front of them. Each of them was dripping with sweat from an hour of soccer in the hot Texas sun. They had practiced all week for the Big Game, which had just finished. Nevertheless, their appointed leader drew close to Coach Joey, the camp organizer, and asked “Coach, can you make camp two weeks long? Can we come back on Monday?”  

And there it was. That special magic that happens every year at Catholic Soccer Camp (CSC) had shown up again. In the ten or eleven years we have been running CSC as a summer ministry at my parish, we’ve learned that if we take about 70 or so elementary-age kids, put them in groups of about 6 or 7, give them two “Team Captains” (aka teen or adult volunteers) and guide them around several soccer stations on our campus (also run by volunteers), these kids will not only form a tight-knit little group of friends but they will also come to understand something of the life of a Christian. They will make the connection between the life of an athlete and the life of a disciple. 




A Simple Idea 

Catholic Soccer Camp began with a very simple idea: invite the kids in our parish to come out and run and play and kick in nature for one week during summer break. We would give them space and time to run across the grass doing simple movements, a chance to exercise both physically and spiritually ... and see what happened.   

CSC is not competitive; kids who have never played are on the same team as kids who may have played for several seasons. Campers who “age out” by going into middle school are invited to come back as volunteers, as the “captains” who become the leaders. For the first 30 minutes of camp, Monday through Thursday, which we call “practice days,” we start with a teaching session in the parish hall for all campers and volunteers, similar to the VBS model. For example, this year’s theme was based on 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Your Body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit,” and each day focused on how God asks us to care for and respect our bodies, including our minds and hearts, using pro athletes as examples. On Friday, we meet off campus at a local soccer field, where the kids play the Big Game by scrimmaging against each other. Then we finish with pizza and popsicles.  

Every year, I expect only half of our young campers to make it to the end of the week, thinking that it is just too hot, too long and too hard for them to keep showing up every day. And every year, they prove me wrong. They straggle out of the parish hall each day at pick-up time, tired and sweaty, and run in the next morning, ready to go again.   

As the days pass and the children pray together, run through the drills, pass the ball back and forth, encourage each other, and chat as they walk between stations, each group changes from a collection of kids who didn’t know each other to a team who is focused on the same goal. It happens every year — and every year, it still surprises me. 




Formation Through Movement 

At the end of camp, when we read St. Paul’s words “I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” (2 Timothy 4:7), the kids get it. They know what a long race feels like. They know all about how hard it is to keep going when they feel like giving up. They know that what they do affects others on their team, and that their teammates are counting on them.   

From there, it's a very short jump to understanding that sometimes doing what God asks of us is also hard and requires sacrifice. Just as top athletes are disciplined and accountable, so, too, we are called to be disciplined and accountable to each other and God. We are embodied beings, a union of body and soul. Catholic Soccer Camp gives the kids the opportunity to stretch both.  

Not only does camp give kids a week to be out in nature, making new friends, learning, playing and praying together, but it also gives them a chance to help other children around the world. We encourage the campers and volunteers to bring in their pennies and dimes to contribute to the Camp Charity, to help children who live in other parts of the world and live very different lives. Lots of kids don’t have soccer cleats or tennis shoes. Some even use use wads of plastic bags for soccer balls. 




If you think your parish or community might be interested in starting your own Catholic Soccer Camp, I’d be happy to chat! This is a ministry I deeply believe in, for many reasons. The more we can encourage our kids to run and play and make new friends, the stronger our parishes and communities will be. 


Share your thoughts with the Catholic Mom community! You'll find the comment box below the author's bio and list of recommended articles.

Copyright 2024 Sarah Pedrozo
Images: Trash ball photo copyright 2024 Sarah Pedrozo; all others Canva