By June Mathews
For 31 summers, from 1986 through 2016, Preston Goldfarb went to soccer camp.
Not only did he go to camp, he daily directed, showed up hours early to prepare for, and taught at camp. But he had a reason – a very good one, in his opinion – that made it all worthwhile.
“I wanted to expose children to what I thought was the correct way to play the game, the way the Germans play it,” he said. “They keep it very simple, play the ball on the ground and move the ball along. That’s what I wanted to teach, and I think we accomplished that goal.”
A soccer coach by profession and a teacher by nature, Goldfarb served as head of the men’s soccer program at Birmingham-Southern College for 33 years, until he retired in 2016. For all his long and storied career at the college level, he fondly remembers his days at camp.
“We didn’t even have a decent field when we started,” he said. “We used a field that was mainly a patch of grass with some rocks on it, and I brought over a coach and two players (from Germany) that first year to help out. We ran the camp for two weeks.”
But the next year’s camp saw vast improvement. Goldfarb raised the money to build a field and brought in the number one goalkeeper in the world, Toni Schumacher (not to be confused with American drag racer Tony Schumacher), to help. The turnout was huge; kids literally came from around the world.
By 1988, the field was ready, Schumacher returned to camp, and kids from 30 U.S. states and five foreign countries showed up – about 400 kids for the two-week run of camp. Later that summer, Goldfarb took his college team to Brazil and held another camp there.
Around that time, Goldfarb started advertising his Excellence Through Fundamentals camp in Soccer America, the top soccer magazine in the country, and the program flourished.
“In the early 1990s to the late 2000s, we’d have about 200 kids a week with a waiting list of 200 or more,” he said. “Then everybody started having camps, and our numbers dropped some. We’d have 130 to 180 on a good week and maybe have around 450 total for about three weeks.”
Despite the lower numbers, Goldfarb felt compelled to continue.
“I wanted to teach the kids that the game is not about how fancy you go; it’s about how simple you can play,” he said. “I wanted to teach them to think. You see all these fancy moves by soccer players, and that’s just not what the game is about.”
Goldfarb’s fascination with soccer, with the German style of soccer in particular, came about during a 1972 trip to Germany with his brother.
“We were sitting in a bar watching TV, and a game came on,” he said. “I’d never watched a soccer game before, and I fell in love with it. So I started playing and coaching back home.”
Because he liked the way the Germans played, Goldfarb returned to Germany in 1985 to start on the requirements for his coaching license, and he got to know some high-level players and coaches there. Those connections later paid off when he needed help with his college and camp programs.
As time went on, the college and camp programs worked to each other’s benefit as well.
“Around 75 percent of our BSC players came from our camps,” he said, “so it was a great recruiting tool, and it saved us money. It also gave our kids a chance to work and make some money during the summer, and teaching others how to play helped them with their own games.”
But the camp, said Goldfarb, was his baby, and not quite a year into retirement, he’s feeling the loss. Though a large chunk of his time since retiring has been and for the time being will be occupied with recruiting and coaching a team at Maccabiah 2017 in Israel this July, he clearly left a bit of his heart on the field he walked away from on his final day of camp last summer.
“I will miss it. I loved teaching the game through the camps,” he said. “It was so important to me to get kids that were 7, 8 years old all the way up to 18, 19 to understand the game. Everybody has their own opinions about how to play the game, and not one way is the right way or the wrong way. I just believe in my way – the simple way. That’s what we taught all those years.”