Youth soccer back in action

Dan Falloon

The Fort Frances Youth Soccer Association kicked off its season a week later than usual, but it was hard to tell the difference when the first ball was booted Monday night
“Normally we start soccer the last week in April, but we’ve always had snow or bad weather,” noted Catherine McGuire, who sits on the board of directors.
“This year, we decided to start it in the first week of May, and we didn’t tell Mother Nature, but somehow she found out,” she joked.
“It’s not going to be a great week,” McGuire admitted. “It doesn’t seem to matter when we start youth soccer, Mother Nature somehow seems to find out.
“Parents asked us if we could try a week later, so we have, and Mother Nature still has found a way to let us know she wants to make an impression.”
The tradition of poor early-season weather certainly didn’t stop participants from signing up in the same numbers as in 2009.
Registration held steady from last season, with just over 500 players aged five-15 signing up, said McGuire,
Those players are spread out between 42 teams over six divisions.
“Squirts” is exclusively for five-year-olds while each of the following divisions pairs two age groups together.
Division 1, for example, is for players aged six and seven.
There are six Squirts squads, 10 in Division 1, eight in each of Divisions 2 and 3, six in Division 4, and four in Division 5.
Each team plays 16 games (twice a week for eight weeks). In Divisions 4 and 5, players also get to compete in two weeks of playoffs.
“They can play for the trophy, and each team does get medals,” noted McGuire.
“We found that the kids like that on the big field,” she added. “They wanted that bit of competitiveness toward the end of the season.
“They want to play as hard as they can in the hottest of the weather,” she laughed.
However, the program stresses skill improvement and getting kids physically active over statistics and standings.
“We are more for skills,” McGuire explained. “Everybody is welcome. It’s just to get them out, get them involved in physical activity, [build] teamwork skills.
“We’ve got some good players, we’ve got some not-so-good players, so everyone can help each other out.
“It just works out really nice,” she enthused.
The association also was faced with a challenge in wrangling enough coaches for each team, but did fill each slot in time for the season.
“Because of the shift work in town, we have had trouble getting coaches,” noted McGuire.
“We’ve really struggled in Division 1 and Division 3 to get coaches because we rely on the parents to step up.
“It’s hard when people are working, to have them commit to a team, but we’ve made it work this year,” she remarked.
However, there are still opportunities for those looking to get involved since volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization.
Community members are welcome.
“The program runs on volunteers, and we’re always looking for new members, whether it’s board members or people willing to help out with a team,” McGuire stressed.
“We’ve got some people that don’t even have kids in soccer anymore and the one gentleman comes back every year to coach Division 4, which is wonderful to see.”
Another major source is some of the older players, who will get involved to coach and officiate the younger ones.
“We have some of the high school kids to come out and get their volunteer hours [to graduate] and will coach Division 3, which is the last year on the small field,” McGuire noted.
Some 27 players from Divisions 4 and 5 have stepped up to referee the lower levels.
“For the small fields, which is Division 1-3, the older children from Division 4 and 5 are paid to ref the younger kids, and they can do that as a job,” she explained.
“That works out really well because it teaches them they have to show up on time for work.
“They take a two-hour course,” McGuire said. “They know most of the rules by then, but they’re just re-instilled all the rules.”
However, the association, like many others, is having trouble finding officials for the higher levels, like Divisions 4 and 5.
“Our trouble is with the big fields, though, that’s where we’re struggling for refs,” McGuire sighed.
“Soccer Ontario has brought new rules in that all refs have to be licensed, and they’ve upgraded the licensing system.
“For us, the refs have to go to Thunder Bay to get registered,” she noted.
“When your volunteers are working full-time, we’re finding it hard to get people to upgrade.”
Compounding the problem is that referees for high school and adult leagues come from the same pool, and some just find the extra requests to be too much.
“We’re really low on qualified refs and I know adult league [the Borderland Soccer Association] is going to run into that problem this summer,” McGuire warned.
“We all share the same refs.”