Soccer player, 11, spotlighted

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

It has become the measure of greatness in young athletes.

You are called "Gretzky-like" and the heavy mantle of expectation is thrust on your shoulders.

Jim Bujouves has coached 11-year-old soccer player Chantale Campbell for three years.

"She has attributes which are Gretzky-like," he said. "I can only surmise from other coaches who have been on the soccer scene for 25, 30 years. At this age, she is the best female soccer player they've seen in 20, 25 years."

Bujouves has coached Chantale and her twin-sister Emilie for three years with the London City Flash.

They'll turn 12 in January. Chantale has been selected as one of the 25 members of the under-14 provincial soccer squad.

"For three years, she's played for teams that are two years ahead of her age (with London City)," said Bujouves. "But at the provincial level, it's unusual to allow an underage (one year younger) to be involved in the process. It's unheard of having a child two years younger make the provincial squad."

Dave Peak is the regional development coach for the Ontario Soccer Association under-13 boys' and girls' team. Peak handles practices for the provincial players in this area. Chantale practises with him twice a week.

"She is technically and mentally well beyond her age," said Peak. "You don't see that very often. She is at the level of someone who is much older."

Peak has been around a long time as a player and coach. Is she the best player he has seen?

"By far, by far," he said. "The best boy or girl at that age."

That's some heavy-duty praise considering the London area is producing many fine soccer players, especially in female soccer.

"It's a ton of pressure, so it has to be managed," said Bujouves. "That's what makes her unique. The parents have allowed Chantale to play at the level she is capable of playing. It has been her own initiative, not the initiative of her parents or others. There were many people who wanted to hold them back, but it was her desire to move down that path and she's handled it very well."

None of this seems to affect Chantale.

"I know I'm going to have bad days. But I feel great. It gives me a challenge and I get to meet other players. It helps me be a better player."

It's a highly competitive, physically demanding situation. Beside the two-a-week practices with Peak, Chantale is in Toronto every weekend for Saturday and Sunday practices with the provincial squad. That means a 4:30 a.m. wakeup one day and 6 a.m. the other.

"It doesn't bother me anymore," she said. "Before when I had to get up, I thought, 'I'm tired.' Now I'm used to it."

A number of factors make her a special package. She has played in an older group for a number of years and played a lot. She works hard at her game and the fact that her twin sister is a very good player as well has helped.

"She has great awareness of the game itself, a first touch with the ball that makes her so good," said Peak. "She finds space for herself and knows how to lose a marker (her defensive check). She is doing things that are years beyond her."

Those are intricacies of the game that often escape far older players.

"You've met people who have the intangibles. You can't explain what they have, but they have it," said Bujouves. "And she's a twin. I'm a twin and I know what a competitive environment will do for you."

Sister Emilie is no slouch as a player, either. She has worked her way onto the regional under-13 squad, playing a year ahead of her age group.

"They're competitive about everything," said father Terry. "They go outside and play volleyball, but they play volleyball with their feet. It's bah, bah, bah this and bah, bah, bah, bah that. 'You're cheating.' 'No. I'm not.' It's hysterical. They always try to get the edge on each other."

And with "Gretzky-like" potential, it's not surprising Chantale has Gretzky-like ambitions.

"I want to make the national team and play for Team Canada," she said.


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