For Derek Smith and Jon Caldwell, former professional soccer players, former teammates and former roommates, soccer has been their lifelong passion. From this partnership sprang a new passion -- Cincinnati-based The Ginga Touch.

Smith and Caldwell believe that Ginga – defined as the sway a player has in his or her feet and legs – is the future of the sport in this country. The Ginga Touch focuses on the individual skills of the player which are honed by futsal – whereby soccer is played 5-on-5 on a smaller pitch, usually indoors and with a smaller ball.

About six years ago, Caldwell recalled to Loyalty 360, “Derek and I were roommates and teammates and we started just thinking about the U.S. and soccer and what was kind of missing in 2007.  We had all these cool ideas. We were still playing professionally at the time. Then in 2009 we started Ginga with 24 kids. Now we’re blessed with kids wanting to participate and we’ve worked with at least 300 kids so far.”

The main reason The Ginga Touch was created, Caldwell said, was because he and Smith were “obsessed with YouTube and street soccer in Brazil and knowing these are the best players in world. We started learning these moves and skills and now we’re teaching these skills to kids.”

Ginga concentrates on an individual learning intricate and artistic ball possession and manipulation skills to be used against any defender.

The difference between Ginga and regular soccer is “it’s pure enjoyment,” Caldwell said. “We’ve had only one kid drop out in three years. These kids start learning moves and skills that kids growing up in Brazil are using. Parents are most impressed about the passion and enjoyment that kids get from training. We don’t make them wear mandatory shirts and we encourage them to wear their favorite professional team jersey. We play Samba music and the kids receive very good technical training.”

Smith and Caldwell are huge advocates of free play because “there’s too much organized soccer in the U.S. Pickup soccer games are where kids learn how to deal with situations and learn what they can do with the ball. We also provide training to get better, but also provide weekly opportunities to play with no coaches and no parents involved. We just let them play, which resonates well with the kids and parents.”

Smith said he has a very detailed curriculum that uses small and heavy balls and, with each new move a player learns, there is a name attached to it like the “Ronaldo Chop.”

Ginga’s personal involvement offers immediate engagement, according to Smith and Caldwell, and loads of fun because kids are learning individual ball skills that aren’t taught at the average youth soccer program.

“We get emails galore,” Caldwell said. “It’s unbelievable what some people have said. One said their daughter played Ginga for one week in the summer and they had never seen her play like that before and she can’t wait to do it again. I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from soccer about sharing and we not only want to develop skillful players, but develop good people also who respect each other. We’re about character building as much as skill building and the parents see that and respect that.”

All of the top soccer players in the world grew up playing street soccer, Caldwell said, and “we’re finding the buzz is huge for this.”

Smith said that soccer, Ginga in particular, is a totally different sport.

“A lot of parents coming in played sports other than soccer,” Smith said. “And a lot of them have the mentality of a sport being played in a controlled environment. Once they see the atmosphere and environment surrounding Ginga, and understand it’s a player’s game with kids making their own decisions, I think a lot of the parents really like seeing their kids play that way.”

During the summer, Caldwell said to promote more of a community feeling, many of the Ginga players travel to downtown Cincinnati every Friday night to a park that is the “perfect venue” for street soccer. “We invite people to come and play and it’s amazing to see. This is what the most talented players wanted. Parents sit there smiling and people start videotaping the games. It keeps the players and parents engaged in a community event.”

Smith said word-of-mouth advertising has carried the program well.

“A lot of parents are coming referred from others who have gone to Ginga,” Smith said. “We also have YouTube videos of training and high level skills.”

Despite its popularity around the world, Smith and Caldwell believe Ginga is just scratching the surface in the U.S.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we thought we reached the ceiling,” Caldwell said. “What we’re starting to see is Cincinnati is a hotbed for soccer. We’re finding the buzz is huge for this kind of underground style street soccer. All the top players in the world grew up playing in the streets. U.S.-recognized futsal has been kind of missing, but it’s gaining traction. We’re popular. We’re excited about Ginga.”

Currently, The Ginga Touch works with ages six through 14, but Smith and Caldwell want to add high school-aged players as well.

“Our main thing is the training,” Caldwell said. “For younger players, ball mastery and ball manipulation is the most important thing. The things we’re teaching them are top-class skills that we didn’t learn until we were 25.”

Ginga Panna involves 1-on-1 skill-based games with the goal being to pass the ball between the opponent’s legs, an excellent workout focused on manipulation and trickery that isn’t prevalent in most U.S. youth soccer organizations.

Selling their program isn’t much of a problem for Smith and Caldwell since creating and maintaining engagement is an intrinsic value of Ginga.

“It’s a passion and pure enjoyment these kids take away from Ginga,” Caldwell said, “because something has changed in this kid. The more you dive into soccer, the more kids are comfortable with the ball at their feet, they’ll enjoy it more and not want to fall out of the sport.”


Part two of a three part series connecting lessons in youth sports engagement to broader customer loyalty, experience and engagement strategies.
Read also, Part 1: A Loyalty Promise at Kings Soccer Academy & Part 3: Communication Engagement Tool for ABLY Swim Program (to be released June 4th)

By: Mark Johnson, CEO, Loyalty 360 - The Loyalty Marketer's Association

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