June 24, 2022
Blog Article: Kids soccer in Edmonton is a mess
Kids Soccer in Edmonton Blog - EIYSA’s Perspective
Over the past week, a blog post entitled “Kids soccer in Edmonton is a mess,” made its way through the soccer community, and we at EIYSA have seen the post and would like to comment publicly about its observations and contribute to the dialogue it has helped spark. We can state unequivocally we also agree with the overall statement that the current structure of governance for the sport in Edmonton is, indeed, “a mess” and that it most definitely needs to be improved, and very quickly.
The author of the blog post begins by tackling the issues of female participation in soccer in Edmonton, which the author contends is due to the “elitist leagues” in kid’s soccer. We agree with the author insofar as what is required is a more inclusive overall approach to the game that puts the emphasis on playing soccer -- at EIYSA we believe that a renewed focus on local clubs providing their local members and communities programming is the best avenue to achieving this mandate. As a league, we want to provide a safe and welcoming platform for as many clubs and communities as possible, and that can include many smaller community driven clubs within Edmonton and the surrounding areas.
In practical terms, and admittedly only recently, simple changes we have implemented at EIYSA include creating two tiers in larger divisions mid-season to create more competitive matches. This small change is a simple yet highly effective mechanism that eliminates lopsided scores, and helps to ensure kids and teams are having fun through balanced and skill appropriate competition.
A second simple and recent change is to allow teams to play up or even down an age group, so the focus is again on development through competition. Just this past season, the EIYSA board did away with the formal boundaries of the city so now parents and kids can move their children to a club that best suits their needs. EIYSA also allows flexibility and movement between rosters of the same clubs, so teams can move youth between their team rosters that best benefits their development, and helps to create opportunities for balance and competition among teams in the league.
While we are in no way suggesting that we have all the answers, we do believe these are all small, but important, steps in mitigating an “all or nothing” mentality that the blog rightly calls out, by trying to create practical league mechanisms that emphasize competition and development over winning. The authors point about roster sizes is spot on as well, and we have begun encouraging smaller rosters for indoor sides and this includes encouraging clubs, and our league, to recognize that indoor season is a developmental window that should focus on skill development.
To return to the subject of female participation in sports, it is also worth noting that this is not just an Edmonton problem, or a soccer problem, as one in three Canadian girls leave sport in adolescence, compared to one in 10 boys. This is a complex problem but the author is right to observe that having smaller roster sizes and simply having more females (and males) more regularly playing will lead to less youth leaving the sport.
Again, as a league, we have begun taking practical and incremental steps, pushed on by our clubs and TDs, who recognize that we need to ensure our members, are having fun in a safe and positive environment. Inclusion is a major priority within EIYSA membership currently, and we have made a major push this year at growing our female sides at the grassroots level. Statistically, more men (64%) volunteer in community sport and fill coaching and administrative roles than women. With that in mind, all of our clubs are seeking ways to be more inclusive and add more females at every level to the game -- these efforts are not simple, but include basic steps such as having more women and people-of-colour represented on our EIYSA Board.
One piece of the blog that we perhaps do not whole heartedly agree with is the author’s contention that PDP program has “failed spectacularly". While yes many of the “coaches are the same” these coaches are now required to hold a national license from Soccer Canada, and the participating clubs all have to meet very high standards to achieve a National Youth License. While there are challenges in the implementation of this significant undertaking, the premise overall is to raise standards of governance, to create consistency among club operations and policies, and to raise standards of play through improved coaching and facilities. For our part, we conceptualized and manifested ‘EIYSA FC’ as on-ramp for many smaller EIYSA clubs who have players or families who want to compete in the AYSL -- a diversity of options has to stretch from grassroots to elite developmental pathways for our membership and that is aligned with Canada Soccer’s Long-term Player Development Model.
Finally, on the topic of one league...let’s do it! Let’s move on from the past and create the best league in Alberta and even in Canada. We have some of the best teams and players in the country, and produced the country’s biggest soccer star in Alphonso Davies, so what are we waiting for? In the past 2 years, EIYSA has approached EMSA numerous times to ‘re-create’ the Greater Edmonton Soccer League, a league that ran extremely smoothly in both 2018 and 2019. It finally saw EIYSA and EMSA working together off the field, and combined EIYSA and EMSA teams in a fun and competitive environment on the field. The time has come to move on, and create a true soccer league with divisions and tiers, and with Provincial seeds going to league winners and not districts, because that simply doesn’t make any sense if the kids and the sport are to come first.
As the author concludes, and we’re here to play our role, “JUST LET THEM PLAY.”