During the past ten months we’ve all become familiar with online meetings, waiting rooms, remembering to hit un-mute before talking while learning the difference between Meeting ID’s and Participant ID’s. After we became more comfortable with online interactions following the steep learning curve back in March and April 2020 it then became more about the meaningfulness of what we were doing. The concepts of ‘leaning in’ and ‘pivoting’ became essential to most businesses and communities as we worked, and continue to work, to support each other through 2020 and with hopes for a much better 2021.
Of particular interest from a disability football perspective has been the way the community has maintained momentum and even gathered speed during a time when it could so easily have gone the other way. Even better is the feeling we all get to experience when we get to ‘fill people’s sails’ by bringing new and old friends together virtually while we can’t enjoy a real kick around with the ball.
During this period of sustained absence from soccer fields and closed doors at indoor facilities we’ve seen many examples of players training on their own in backyards and basements, from juggling challenges to fitness training and everything in between. The need for international level para players to maintain fitness levels and touches on the ball are arguably just as important as grassroots players needing to see a friendly face and hear the familiar directions of a coach. The complexities of training during a pandemic become more convoluted when you take a national look as provinces and territories find themselves at different stages and while some have been able to return to full competition others remain in strict lock-down. Add in the constantly changing status of each geographic region means that one constant for players is to at least work on their individual levels of fitness and something as simple as a juggling challenge can provide motivation and some friendly banter.
While players have got on with it and benefited from the chance to connect in a virtual world it’s the PIVOT from club staff and volunteers from organizations across the globe that have made this all possible.
The first and best example I saw of this in 2020 was from the CP Soccer organization in the U.S. I wrote about this in my July blog entitled ‘CP Soccer – Going the extra mile’. This program has not simply maintained momentum but accelerated it towards a year-end event led by the US Soccer Disability Committee as part of their National Awareness Month in December. Led by Ashley Hammond they delivered their successful blend of virtual demo’s and player check-in’s with some impressive guests including US Soccer President Cindy Cone (@cone_cindy) and former US Men’s National Team player Alexi Lalas.
The December Awareness month also involved the team at Clemson University who I had also written about in mid-July under the title ‘Clemson Para Soccer goes virtual’. Another great example of a pivot from in-person workshop interactions to an intense mix of guest speakers, group work and practical demonstrations.
At the Club level the All Abilities team at Pickering Football Club in Ontario have found great success in moving their weekly one hour field sessions to an online format. During the summer of 2020 the format was a mix of guest speakers, story-tellers, yoga and soccer skills from in-house coaches. There was a brief window in September and October when the players were able to get back on the turf and both players and coaches wore personal protective equipment with limited participants on the field and reduced training time (in line with governing authority restrictions). The Club is now moving that up a gear with multiple levels of virtual training starting in early 2021 and there are exciting times ahead for the team as funding from the Canadian Tire JumpStart program has enabled the program to pivot in the coming weeks and ensure the club creates the best possible training for its members. Importantly as we join the dots between pivoting and leaning in, the PFC All Abilities program is now shared with disability soccer proponents at Alberta Soccer Association for their members to watch as well as a growing number of Clubs across Ontario.
Practical workshops and coaching sessions are getting a lot of attention during this unique time when in-person participation is limited but a special mention must be given to the work of the Royal Dutch Football Association (widely known as the KNVB). In late 2020 they released a fantastic digital guide to disability soccer and I haven’t seen a better example at this point in time. The guide highlights the common disability football groups of; amputee, blind, CP, Deaf, power chair, frame and Special Olympics in a simple, engaging way that includes great info-graphics and video content.
Tools such as this are a powerful way to spread the word around the different formats of the beautiful game and I encourage anyone to take a look by clicking the link below.