A four-year-old girl flies down the field sporting a toothless grin, the ball zigzagging ahead of her and parents, teammates and team officials seemingly cheering her on. As she nears the goal, she quickly looks over her shoulder, surprised but not unhappy that no one is chasing her. The goal is unmanned, and the girl kicks the ball into the empty net, scoring the first goal of the outdoor season—against her own team.
Such was my memorable introduction to community soccer in 2005, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I would become more and more involved in “the beautiful game” as the years went by.
My husband and I enrolled our eldest daughter in soccer probably because of something a gymnastics coach told us when our daughter was a toddler. Every child, he said, should have both an individual and a team sport. Gymnastics, figure skating and swimming are individual sports; soccer, hockey and baseball are team sports. Each offers a different skill set.
In 2007, I happened upon an advertisement for a volunteer secretary for the Edmonton Southeast Soccer Association, which runs community soccer programs in the southeast zone of the city. I joined the board of directors and embarked upon a steep learning curve. U12, amalgamation, 4 v 4, red carding, playing up, premier, FIFA, sweeper keeper, minis: this was a lingo with which I had to become familiar—and quickly—if I was to keep accurate minutes.
In addition to promoting camaraderie, physical fitness and teamwork, community soccer helps build community by encouraging children to play with other children in their neighbourhood. Like Calgary, Edmonton is divided into community leagues that organize youth soccer and other programs for community residents. Each community league appoints a soccer director to the board of the appropriate zone of the Edmonton Minor Soccer Association, which itself is a district of the Alberta Soccer Association and so on all the way up the line to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, based in Zurich, Switzerland.
The more I became involved in community soccer, the more I became aware of its parallels to the public education system. Just as society benefits from public education, so communities benefit from community soccer, which itself benefits from parental and community engagement. Like schools, community soccer relies on parent and community volunteers, whether as coaches, bench attendants, line painters, tournament assistants or administrators. Without that engagement, community soccer would cease to exist.
Starting in the U12 age category (players born in 1999 or 2000), children have the opportunity to attend referee clinics and to referee games for the younger age categories. The little girl who scored the first goal of the season against her own team in 2005 will be refereeing U6 and U8 games when the outdoor season gets under way in May. Ten dollars a game is a princely sum to a 10-year-old, and the experience will help equip her with leadership and mentorship skills that will serve her in good stead as she continues toward her goal of becoming a teacher.