Hills followed his heart to Hudson and soccerKenny Hills is a pleasant chap who followed his heart from England to Wisconsin and became a soccer coach and trainer. His company, Street Feet Soccer Academy, has "a boat load of camps" set for this summer in Hudson and surrounding areas.
By: Jon Echternacht, Hudson Star-Observer
Kenny Hills is a pleasant chap who followed his heart from England to Wisconsin and became a soccer coach and trainer.
He admits to being smitten by his wife on a vacation to Jamaica that ultimately paved the way to residing in the Hudson area and matrimony after a short long-distance relationship.
“I saw her and that was it,” said Hills during a conversation at a Hudson coffee shop recently.
Hills, 37, said he was in Jamaica with a buddy from England in 2000 and ended up at the same beach resort where his wife, Tori Svoboda, was staying, and one thing led to another, as they say.
They first lived in Madison where Tori, a graduate of St. Croix Central High School, worked at the University of Wisconsin. After 18 months in Madison, they moved to the Hudson area in 2002. She is now the associate dean of students at St. Thomas University in St. Paul.
Kenny on the other hand, was in the plumbing and heating industry in his native London and started out in the trade in the USA, but it wasn’t satisfying him.
“I‘ve got a buddy in England who said, ‘if you aren’t doing what you like, you won’t ever be happy,’” he said.
So he started work with soccer teams in the Twin Cities, eventually earned his coaching license and set up his own summer camp in Hudson. He is connected with the Plymouth Soccer Association (PSA) in Minnesota. He has his own company, Street Feet Soccer Academy, the base for his camps and training operation.
“The Hudson camp starts after the 4th of July and runs for a week at the fields east of town,” he said. “The biggest group I had was 27 kids but the average is 14 or 16,” Hills said. “When there are more than 12 or 14 kids, I have to call in another coach at the last minute to help, and most of them are booked up.” The athletes range from 4 to 18 years old.
Hills also works at different camps and clinics throughout the metropolitan area and even took on a job in Colorado once, but said he prefers to work near home. “I have a boat load of camps this summer,” he said.
Even so, he is contemplating running a day camp in Roberts in August.
He is also involved in another facet of coaching with a colleague in Texas, a system called Strike Zone. “It’s a color-coordinated soccer ball and shoes system,” Hills said.
He said the technique helps the player strike the ball with the right part of his foot to create a desired effect by matching up the color patch on the shoe with the same color on the ball.
The product is just getting developed and Hills hopes to be the ambassador for the system in the Midwest.
Hills said he played for soccer (football) teams in England until he was about 20 years old, then he only played on the “Sunday sides,” or pickup games in England. “But most of those Sunday sides could give the pro teams in the U.S. a run,” he said.
He fills in the gaps between soccer season by working at the Hudson Marina, shrink wrapping boats in the fall and launching them in the spring. “It’s the right time of year for me,” he said.
The Londoner has assimilated into the local culture quite well. He loves fishing and plans to get a fishing boat soon. He has also taken up the great Wisconsin pastime – deer hunting. “I got my first deer last fall,” he said.
Hills hails from east London but his accented English makes him sound more Australian. “That’s because I have to speak slower for people to understand me here,” he said. Between the Midwestern American English and his native Cockney, his speech pattern takes on some of the characteristics of an Aussie.
“I go up to the Boundary Waters (Northern Minnesota) with my dad every couple of years,” he said. “It’s just the two of us and we talk. When I come back people can’t understand me.”
He’s probably one of the few persons in the area who can watch the ‘Eastenders’ on Friday night public TV and not have to turn up the sound and concentrate to understand the dialogue.
Hills’ parents and a sister live in England, but he has no desire to move back unless a dream job would open up. “I have only been back a few times since I’ve lived here,” he said. “My family comes over here to visit because there is more to do.”
For more information, visit www.streetfeetsoccer.com on the Web or e-mail Hills at Kenny@streetfeetsoccer.com.