Former Hopkinsville Tiger soccer player Derek Smith has played the beautiful game all over the country, but this past week, he brought the world's game to the turf of the Planters Bank-Jennie Stuart Health Sportsplex for a youth camp.
Smith graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 1998 and went on to play at Union College. After making stops in different leagues across the United States, Smith reached the pinnacle of soccer as he was able to suit up for the Columbus Crew in 2005.
When sportsplex facility coordinator Tony Henson contacted Smith about the camp, it didn't take long for him to make the drive back from Cincinnati to host his first youth camp in Hopkinsville in several years.
"I just jumped on the opportunity to come back and help out," he said.
Smith said it's always great to come home and catch up with his former teammates and opponents as at least one had a child in this week's camp.
"It's great," he said. "A lot of the people I used to play with, their kids are playing soccer. For me, it's always a joy to get back to Hopkinsville. I brag about Hoptown wherever I go. I always say it's a hidden gem with the best athletes in the area …"
"It's just great to get back and try to share the knowledge that I've gained over the course of my career."
Smith is now the co-founder and technical director of the School of Ginga, a program in Cincinnati that promotes the game of soccer.
He runs camps there and has helped more than 300 kids learn and improve their skills.
Smith said the feeling he gets when he sees a younger player master a move is indescribable.
"It's great," he said. "That's really why you coach. I love to develop kids and help kids get better. Anytime a kid can learn a move, it's a life lesson. You've just got to try, concentrate; don't get frustrated then you can do it. It's a great feeling."
The former Tiger has played on the same field as David Beckman, Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu, along with other great players from all parts of the world.
"To be in the realm of these players, the national team is the ultimate goal, but just to be able to play professional soccer as a job, which you love to do, words can't really describe it. It's definitely a blessed opportunity."
Smith said with social media and the number of developmental programs, it's easier now to get noticed than when he was in school.
He said kids now have endless opportunities.
"The years I was playing, it was definitely in the decline of soccer professionally in the US," he said. "MLS was just getting started, the exposure was not there. The amount of teams, there weren't that many teams. Now there's a lot of teams, a lot of opportunities."
If the former professional player had any advice for players today, it would be to just play the game.
"My advice is play all the time," he said. "Me being from Hoptown, we didn't have the opportunities. My friends and I, we played almost every day at Ruff Park. We'd just call each other. You've just got to touch the ball more and more and more. It's really no matter where you're from, if you're good, you're going to get noticed. Somebody's going to see you but only if you're doing the work during the off time."
Smith was in attendance for Hopkinsville's historic run to the KHSAA State Final Four last season.
Smith knows what it takes to win a state championship as he was an assistant at Covington Catholic when they won state in 2015 and finished runner-up the next season.
"I knew what it takes to get there and to see those guys, I was just so proud of those kids and that coaching staff," he said.