While growing up in Attleboro, Mass., Geoff Cameron would often go to school with a backpack strapped over his shoulders and a soccer ball in his hands.
"After school," he said, "I'd just juggle the ball on the playground."
There's a lot more to his story, but these two points are linked: Geoff Cameron spent a lot of his childhood juggling a soccer ball. And Geoff Cameron now plays professional soccer.
A rising star for the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, Cameron preaches about the importance of juggling for any young soccer player. Like many professionals, Cameron doesn't see a downside to youths spending a significant amount of free time juggling a soccer ball on their own. Even if juggling isn't a necessary skill when the games start, it directly spills over to other game-used skills.
"If you're comfortable on the ball, it's because you grew up playing with the ball at your feet and you have confidence with the ball at your feet that you can do anything," Cameron said. "I think juggling and dribbling and that kind of stuff helps your technique with passing and shooting and taking a pass and first touch in the right direction."
Cameron was a standout youth player who played collegiately at the University of Rhode Island before being drafted by the Dynamo. He was a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year in 2008 before becoming a regular starter on Houston, one of the league's top teams.
To this day, he works on his juggling.
"It gives you touches," Cameron said. "You're always touching the ball. You can learn to juggle in so many different ways. You can do it with spin, inside of the foot, sole of the foot, top of the foot.
"When you leave college and go to professional soccer, there's a big difference in speed of play and first touch. When you have guys aiming 20 yards and lacing them in, you need to have a good first touch to put the ball down. I think juggling and dribbling, when you're younger, you can do that in the back yard. You can do that anywhere."
Cameron's travels to Europe are all the proof he needs.
"You go to Europe and see all these basketball courts, but they're not basketball courts. They're soccer courts, but they're concrete," Cameron said. "You see all these kids dribbling and juggling and doing all these moves. If they're doing it on concrete, there's no excuse for kids who say 'I don't have a backyard.' Well, you have a street, right? You can juggle anywhere."
Which is why, when he took off for school, he grabbed his soccer ball on the way out the door.