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MONTE DRAPER \ BEMIDJI PIONEER Learning the placement of a header is an important tool in soccer. German soccer instructor Tim Döering works with 16- year-old Cole Wright, giving him four tries to a head the ball into a specific target Wednesday morning at Waldsee, the German village at Concordia Language Villages.

Soccer scores big at CLV: Famous German football team Bayern München visit Waldsee

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BEMIDJI -- It took 9-year-old Denali Dean 22 seconds to dribble a soccer ball around eight poles, pass it twice to himself and then power it through a small goal.

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"It's going pretty good so far," said Denali, who typically plays forward, upon finishing the drill.

Dozens of local soccer players like Denali spent a few hours Wednesday at Concordia Language Villages, participating in the first-ever local Bayern München soccer challenge.

Players from Germany's fabled Bayern München team -- the country's winningest club, having won a record 23 national titles and five European Cups -- developed specific drills for strikers, goalies, defensemen and midfielders. At CLV, then, children declared their positions and worked with staff as they each completed five drills.

"All of them are stars in Europe, but they're also all on the German national team, not just the Bayern München team," said Dan Hamilton, Dean of Waldsee, CLV's German village, which hosted the event. "They all developed these skill tests. The kids lined up according to what position they play and ... they each went through five different tests."

The drills were not simple. Strikers, for example, not only had to head the ball, but do so on command into four quadrants of a goal. Similarly, at a scoring drill, they had to kick the ball into eight smaller sections of the goal.

Kids, as they completed each station, were timed and scored as coaches determined a winner from each position.

For their part, the students -- a combination of Bemidji High School and Bemidji Youth Soccer players -- said the morning was quite enjoyable.

Gunnar Nelson, 18, entering his senior year at BHS, said he was too old to actually compete for prizes, but said it was a good experience.

"I think it's fun to see the younger kids stepping up," he said.

While Waldsee has for years hosted a German soccer adventure program, the Bayern München challenge this summer is a pilot program offered at a handful of sites across the country.

The challenge, two years old internationally, already is established in Japan, China, India, Brazil, Australia and Italy. There, similar challenges annually bring out top youth players who go to Germany in May to compete as a team for a youth cup.

That step is not yet ready to be implemented in the U.S., said Matthias Eiles, who works with Auf Balhöhe, a German youth soccer organization and who has crisscrossed the U.S. this summer running the Bayern München challenge.

The ability to take that step is less about finding talented players, but about testing sites to determine how the challenge might work best in the U.S.

"It's not a preselection (for sites), but about getting to know how flexible the different venues are to be able to do the big thing," Eiles said. "So a team from the United States could go to Germany next year in May to play the other countries. That's the reason behind it."

As for the players, Eiles said it's not about identifying the most talented or gifted soccer players, but about finding those most willing to come together as a cohesive team.

"In soccer, our philosophy is it's not important to have the best skillful players; it's about having the best team together," he said. "Eleven stars don't make a team."

Referencing the successful Bayern München team and its players sprinkled throughout the CLV soccer field, he said Bayern München players know that intimately.

"It needs to be a union. That's the reason for the success of Bayern München last year," Eiles said, clasping his hands together in a demonstration of unity. "They were being friends."

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