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Column: Building the beautiful game

Youth competitive soccer in Sudbury is not where it needs to be. No one is denying that. Not the folks involved at the board level of the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club), not the coaches, not the parents or athletes.
Kandyce Whitehead netted back-to-back hat tricks on the weekend as the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club Impact U21 Girls swept a two-game set from Mississauga PCC, beating the visitors 5-0 and 6-1.
Youth competitive soccer in Sudbury is not where it needs to be. No one is denying that. Not the folks involved at the board level of the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club), not the coaches, not the parents or athletes.

Yet, there is progress being made.

"I would say that we have taken a few steps forward, with the merging of all of the youth competitive clubs," said highly decorated local soccer coach, Giuseppe Politi, recently.

"At least we're not dealing with the dilution of talent. We're putting the best product, of interested people, forward to represent the city."

In fact, with 11 local competitive teams playing in out-of-district leagues, much of the best soccer talent in Sudbury is getting a chance to face a level of opposition that can help raise the level of play for those who undertake the challenge.

But viewed against much of the remainder of the country, there is simply no kidding ourselves — there remains plenty of room for improvement.

"There are certainly still steps to go, including the possible merger of all soccer clubs in Sudbury," said Politi. "That is the framework of clubs that we are competing against. We need to have everybody in."

The notion, on a local level, is not without critics.

Many of those involved with the very successful recreational soccer clubs in Sudbury tend to view these proposals as opening the door to the raiding of houseleague players to the competitive ranks by those involved with rep soccer.

The likes of Politi, and former soccer professional, Brian Ashton, and many others, vehemently disagree. To them, and most of the soccer community outside of Sudbury, an all-inclusive approach has the potential to benefit everyone, at every level of the game.

Allowing experienced soccer coaches to mentor and guide houseleague coaches better equips them to make practice sessions more fun, while also allowing children to get more fundamental soccer development.

It's a concept on which Ashton can offer an interesting perspective. A regional coach for the Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) for 11 years following his playing days, Ashton launched the Northern Soccer Academy when the OSA opted centralized their process of provincial talent identification.

But Ashton is also finding a heavy demand for basic soccer development for recreational and mid-level competitive players. In fact, the Valley East Soccer Association has reached out to him in helping bring their U6 age grouping in line with the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model that is envisioned by the Canadian Soccer Association.

Under that model, as many parents have learned in recent years, competitive games, scores and standings are thrown right out the window. It is soccer for the sake of play only.

"The kids have to be touching the ball constantly, especially at a young age," said Ashton, who insists on having one ball per player for the majority of his sessions. "We really focus on the basic standards of passing, receiving and dribbling the ball."

There is little doubt the level of communication between all levels of soccer in Sudbury is greater than at any time in the recent past. There is some room for optimism.

It is on the strength of that hope that Wayne Trainor, Sudbury Regional Soccer Association executive director, is looking to build. He has organized a Sudbury soccer symposium for the weekend of Nov. 8- 9, looking to bring together those interested in the local development of the beautiful game to share ideas and look at ways of moving forward.

Much like the merger of the competitive clubs a few years back, the symposium will not cure all that ails soccer in Sudbury. But frank discussion seldom hurts.

Randy Pascal is the founder of and a contributing sports writer for Northern Life.