Recent events have given me the chance to reflect on the successes and future direction of accessible soccer in Ontario and Canada. I’d like to share these with you in an effort to further stimulate the growth of inclusive programs.
This is truly a team effort from vibrant Club programs and Thought Leaders to the legacy of international events and provincial activation.
Firstly, the Club environment- a true testing ground for new programs and a way to ensure all participants have meaningful involvement. The willingness of many Clubs to share their experience and to collaborate has helped grow numerous programs and spark a progression towards more festivals/tournaments. Progressive groups are connecting with local special needs experts to educate their Club Coaches in an effort to provide a positive, well informed environment. This sort of activity doesn’t take money to make it happen but it does require; energy, commitment and passion which Club Coaches have in ample supply. At a Board level this is simple, sensible risk management in an age where most parents expect their kids coach to be qualified. If you get the chance to ask a parent about their child’s involvement in an inclusive program you’ll realise it’s much more than managing risk! Recent grants have enabled the All Abilities program at Pickering Soccer Club to share their experiences with many other Clubs in a ‘Program in a Box’ format and I encourage interested Club Leaders to approach Franco, Dave or Wendy at the Club to find out more. In a smaller but equally dedicated way, the growth of the Fergus-Elora District Soccer Club program has been led by Pat Espina. A strong focus on adults with special needs brings some additional challenges but additional rewards too- for this group of athletes the FEDS sessions and their summer tournament are a key point of contact with friends.
Beyond the Club environment we can look back on a successful America Cup 2014 (international Cerebral Palsy soccer event and Pan American Games qualifier) followed by a very successful TO2015 Para Pan American Games including competition for both Cerebral Palsy (7’s) and blind (5’s) soccer athletes. Countless volunteers and fans left the event with a lasting experience, awareness, and inspiration from the competition – including 500 spectators in a sell-out crowd for the blind soccer medal games. The legacy from these competitions including balls, goals and kickboards have now been distributed across the province and put Ontario in a healthy position to grow participation in the years to come.
Sandwiched between Club and National level activity is the work of the provincial bodies. At the time of writing there is no commitment from other provincial soccer bodies to lead in this area. Alberta Soccer Association have the passionate Manager of Grassroots Development, John Clubb regularly encouraging the growth of soccability programs across the Province while Saskatchewan Soccer Association have an ongoing connection with expert groups in their province. Ontario Soccer Association:
1. Made accessible soccer a key piece of its Club Excellence Award
2. Continues to host a well-established Special Olympics competition as part of the historic Ontario Cup
3. Collaborated with the Abilities Centre, Whitby enabling 72 Coaches to complete an accredited Coaching Disabled Footballers course
4. Provides a dedicated webpage including; a Club Programs Guide and Coaching Manual (adapted from the FA version with their generous approval)
5. Entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in March 2016 with Special Olympics Ontario to work closer in the areas of Coaching, Competition and Match Officials
6. Continues to work closely with Ontario Blind Sport Association on the growth of 5’s soccer including 4 Regional Centres in 2016 focused on entering teams at the 2017 Ontario ParaSport Games in Brantford.
With all this progress it’s important to know where we go next and plan for future growth with a clear direction. A recent University of Toronto symposium provided me with food for thought in this area – specifically around the use of Social Media. A look at any TV or media sport content will point heavily towards male, professional competition. The Tucker Centre for Research on Girls and Women in Sport based in Minnesota states that female athletes receive 4% of all sport coverage. The coverage of para sport competition is arguably worse. Coverage of the London 2012 Games suggest that of 300 Canadian ‘newsstand’ publications there were 200 Paralympic Games articles compared with 5,488 articles for the Olympic Games. (TheConversation.com) The good news is that WE can change that through social media. Social Media provides us with the platform to literally write our own script. We follow who we want and ‘share’, ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ what we like. That means more connectivity, collaboration and ultimately participants!
Ironically a piece of literature shared through social media led me to the concept of a ‘Social Franchise Model’ explained very clearly by the excellent Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto. I encourage you to take a look. In the context of inclusive, soccer specific development the pioneers, innovators and thought leaders within Ontario are committed to move this model forward. Sharing proven program formats with more and more Clubs in a clear, strategic fashion will build a solid base for system growth. More to come on this topic in the coming months as we work towards an Academy.