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After a week in Östersund, Darfur United ended its 2016 training camp with a plethora of successful accomplishments on and off the field.

All fourteen players arrived on time and eager to begin from day one, which was easy to see in their warm and joyful reunions with one another and the iACT team. The soccer work began bright and early, with team breakfast and training usually completed by 11:00. Led by head coach Mark Hobson, the team spent the week fine tuning soccer foundations such as technical skills, on and off the ball movement, and team shape–with a focus on distribution and organization from the defensive third of the field. Beyond specific skills, there was an emphasis on the manner and attitude in which players were expected to train. The team embraced a professional attitude toward training, meeting the expectations of being physically and mentally prepared to practice. The atmosphere was welcoming and lively with a simultaneous tone of seriousness–the players were willing to put in the hard work needed to improve one’s game.

Darfur United spent a great deal of time learning how to train and treat their bodies individually in order to be better prepared when the team is able to play together. Dr. Alex spent several classroom sessions with the players going over FIFA recommended injury prevention and strength building exercises, the significance and signs of concussions, and proper nutritional and supplement habits. Although flexibility and stability may not be the team’s greatest strengths at the moment, they were eager to receive Dr. Alex’s broad knowledge base on athlete health.

In addition to physical health, Felicia led the team in mindfulness. The players practiced their individual awareness of their mind and body through several different exercises. Top athletes from across a multitude of different sports practice mindfulness in order to be focused on the present moment, unconcerned with what just happened or what may happen in the play of competition or just in everyday life. Darfur United players took this effort towards personal improvement seriously, embracing the opportunity to improve themselves beyond the pitch.

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Finally, the players were left with an individual skills training program provided by Beast Mode Soccer–an elite technical module used by some of the world’s best soccer players. The training is expected to be completed every day, with players racking up at least 2,000 touches in a matter of thirty minutes. Beast Mode Soccer has been proven to benefit player development, and its use by the players should give Darfur United an edge going into its next competition.

The push towards individual health and training programs was intentionally geared to move Darfur United into a more self-managed program in which the players are consistently staying fit and capable of coming together as a team or in smaller groups with or without an official call-up. The expectation is that players take responsibility for their role as a member of Darfur United, doing the right things on and off the field in order to give the team the best chance for success in the future. The next CONIFA World Cup will be here before we know it, and it is obvious that the team wants to go in with the mentality that they can compete with the best teams on an international level.

From an organizational perspective, Östersund could not have been a better fit for Darfur United’s training camp. The hospitality of those who worked with the team was unmatched. Östersund Football Club provided impeccable training facilities, the opportunity for Darfur United to work with the men’s professional team, and a quality soccer match against the Östersund Academy team. Darfur United was able to forge numerous positive connections in Östersund through the selflessness of Alan and Jude Barker, Mayor of Ostersund – Ann-sofie Andersson, the local Rotary Club chapter, and various other organizations. With such a hospitable atmosphere, it only makes sense that Darfur United earned their first team win on that cold Tuesday night!

The week was saturated with football and fun, engulfed in the exciting understanding that Darfur United is aiming to compete with the best of the best in future matches and CONIFA World Cups. The players were given all the tools necessary to stay healthy and ready for the next gathering. Östersund provided a place in which DU could call home for a week, and likely in the future. The sky is the limit for this team, but they will always stay grounded on the basis that the represent the millions of individuals who have and continue to experience atrocities in the Darfur region. United, this team will continue to serve as a vehicle of hope for all.