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  Times of Israel - A soccer stalwart finds Jewish life pitch perfect

Before the Maccabiah, Scott Shulton was relatively uninvolved in London’s community. Now he’s a coach and mentor to hundreds of Jewish students

By AARON KALMAN July 15, 2013, 11:16

Four years ago, after weeks of pleas, Scott Shulton succumbed to pressure from a number of friends and agreed to join England’s soccer team at the Maccabiah Games, a mere 11 days before the event started. That decision, he recalls, “changed my life.”

Participation in the Maccabiah marked the start of a special Jewish journey, in which Shulton went from being a relatively uninvolved member of London’s Jewish community to heading the school soccer program for Maccabi Great Britain and coaching hundreds of Jewish schoolchildren per week. In July he’ll participate in his second Maccabiah, this time as manager of England’s junior team.

The 23-year-old Shulton grew up in London’s Jewish schools, but dedicated his life to becoming a professional ball player. As a result, he told The Times of Israel in a recent interview, he “was never involved in the Jewish stuff outside of school. I had four or five practices a week. I didn’t go on tour [to Israel], because I couldn’t miss practice.” First in Watford FC’s children’s department and later, as a member of Wycombe Wanderers’ youth squad, “I was always training.”

Before the 2009 Games, he was in the midst of contract talks with a number of professional teams, and refused initial requests to join the Jewish team from Great Britain. However, when one of the squad’s members injured himself weeks before the tournament, “I ended up saying ‘Yes’ to something I never imagined happening.”

The Maccabiah “changed my life on its Jewish side,” he says. “To be able to go to Israel for a football tournament couldn’t have been more perfect.”

During the tournament, “I was so focused on what I needed as a player, I didn’t really have time for much else. I enjoyed the trips and sights, but to me it was all about the next match,” Shulton recalls his experience, and is still frustrated that the team ended up losing the finals to Argentina, in penalties. The plan for his upcoming trip to Israel, he says, is “to take a step back and enjoy being in Israel. Admire the country.”

Four years after that first Israel and Maccabiah experience, Shulton still enjoys playing the game, but dedicates most of his time to teaching it. Not long ago he joined the coaching staff of Queens Park Rangers (QPR), one of London’s oldest and most prestigious clubsIn addition, he’s been coaching England’s junior Maccabiah team — which he led to the gold in Vienna, at the 2011 European Maccabi Games.

“Maccabi GB contacted me about working with them. Two-and-a-half years on, I’m still there,” he describes how he moved from being a professional athlete to a professional Jewish educator, coach, and mentor. “Four years ago, I would have said ‘No, no chance.’ But since that call, I’ve worked in four schools … teaching almost 600 kids a week about skills, coordination, game planning.”

Shulton says that even when he was less involved, being part of the Jewish community in London was a given. “Being able to give back to the community is great.”

On Sunday, a plane with dozens of British-Jewish athletes, including Shulton’s team, landed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. He has high expectations of the 2013 Maccabiah, both on and off the pitch.

Cautious and respectful of the other teams, the coach believes his team will make it through the first stage and into the knockout rounds. As most of the players on the squad played together with him in Vienna, he states the goal is to “continue to win matches. We’ve proven we can do it.” However, he warns, in knockout stages with everything dependent on one game, “the best teams don’t necessarily win.”

Besides sports, Shulton says, the Maccabiah is about “feeling a connection that is worldwide” with other people. Getting to know other coaches and meeting new faces over a cold beer at the end of the day are on his to-do list for the Games.

At the last Maccabiah, he says, “I made good friends I’ve stayed in contact with — from the US, Israel, Australia and other places. I’m looking forward to seeing them and talking to them again.”

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