The only thing that stood out more than Rhys Thomas thick British accent and bright-yellow jumpsuit Thursday at the VCHS soccer field was his game.
The guy can flat play soccer.
And for good reason.
Back home, I started playing when I was 4 or 5, said the 21-year-old recent college graduate and native of soccer-obsessed Wales. I play semi-professional, and we train two to three times a week. And if Im not playing, Im coaching.
Thomas interest in the latter led to him getting involved with Challenger Sports, a British-based corporation dedicated to developing interest in soccer throughout North America by sending eager young coaches across the Atlantic to teach a game most Americans simply dont understand.
And, thanks to a tip from Dee Dee Hartz to VCHS co-coach Nancy Bradley, Thomas found himself in Vandalia last week as part of a whirlwind Midwest summer tour to various soccer camps in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Weve brought more than 700 coaches (to America) this year, and we each do a different camp each week, Thomas said. I thought itd be a great experience and opportunity for myself, and its put me in the right direction for my career.
Vandalia was the third stop on Thomas tour of middle America, and Vandalia co-coach Nancy Phillips is glad he came.
The kids have really enjoyed it a lot, said Phillips. And theyve improved a lot over the week, I think.
Hes telling them what they need to do, and hes had a good rapport with the kids.
Thomas objective while in Vandalia was to help campers learn fundamentals.
Basically, Ive worked with the coaches here, and theyve asked me to work with them on attacking and defending styles, Thomas said. So, basically, Ive worked with them on the basics of attacking, getting the ball out wide and crossing the ball in.
Thomas saw enough progress through the first three camp sessions to take the next step Thursday.
Todays become more advanced, Thomas said. We put it into game situations. Theyve been doing well. Its been great so far.
The improvement was evident Thursday, as VCHS campers connected for several goals.
Thomas message to campers upon his departure Friday was simple keep playing.
It isnt the major sport out here, so I can understand why they dont start so early, Thomas said. I spoke to a few of the guys who started only two or three years ago. So theyve had to learn the basics pretty quickly. The more they play, the better theyll get.
Thomas next stop will be just up the road in Champaign. But he wont soon forget Vandalia.
Its been brilliant, said Thomas of his weeklong visit. Its my third week (in the U.S.), and all the kids have been fun. Theyve listened, too, and thats all you can ask.