The Soccability Forum saw a record 14 people on the call this week for our fourth virtual meeting. The Forum is structured as four quarterly meetings throughout the year that are open to soccer club based program leaders who may, or may not, have an inclusive program already. The agenda has remainder quite informal and allows for a comfortable interaction between each participant and between our guests. Three common components exist in each session;
- Current Club based inclusive programs are able to share their current updates, progress and challenges with the group
- Interested clubs that are looking to start their own program are welcomed and encouraged to ask questions
- Guest speakers share their insights on various aspects of accessible soccer.
Joining the dots
The Soccability Forum was established to maintain a regular conversation among club accessible programs. Until we started with Forum #1 (May 28th 2021) the connection between programs was sporadic, unstructured and often just occurred at a conference. By joining the dots in a more meaningful and regular way we can build momentum on the issues and opportunities that are important to us. For almost twenty years there has been one national parasoccer program in Canada, one Special Olympics system and a stop-start deaf soccer program. During a slightly shorter timeline there has been a steady growth of grassroots programming in local clubs. That’s not a pathway for player development but more like an enormous STOP sign that tells kids you can come this far and love the opportunity to play soccer at a club but that’s where it ends.
To fix that issue we start with the base and we sure it up. We ensure grassroots programs have the support and guidance they need to start thriving and not feel isolated. A comment we heard back in the early days was ‘we’re on our own, where do we go for help?’ and with little content at the national, provincial or regional level this was understandable. Add to that the fact that few clubs had got started in this area of the game it could often feel like you were the only program in Canada, often left to look online for tips and tricks from around the globe.
Take our most recent Forum #4 as an example. While Powerchair football is very popular in Europe and has hosted world championships since 2007, Canada (British Columbia) is regarded as an inventor of the sport along with France who has been playing since the 1970’s. However there is little knowledge of it in Ontario and while BC was a hotbed of activity it is more recently Quebec that has led the charge with steady progress in Alberta too. Bringing Powerchair Football Canada board members to present on the sport was an eye opener for many on The Forum and sparked a lot of chatter about what we would need to start this in local clubs. A lot was shared in what felt like a very quick 1 hour session including;
- Team structure including age ranges, gender and athlete classifications
- Powerchair types and costs
- Push plate options for the front of the chair
- International competition experiences and current calendar
- Domestic program offerings including; Quebec, BC and Alberta.
Soccability Canada will continue to bring groups like this to the table and clubs will assess what the appetite is in their community and what resources they need.
The dots are starting to join. Clubs in each province now know where the support will come from and if it’s not in their local community it’s at the end of an email or at the forum.
In the course of 12 months we’ve seen the development of a new club program in British Columbia and the launch of an accessible program in London now entering its fourth fantastic week. We’ve shared insights from Canada Soccer on national development and national team programs and most recently we heard from members of the national association for powerchair football. Bringing more knowledge to the group enables us to move the game forward as one. The Forum will continue to provide a platform for grassroots clubs to connect and build the quality and capacity in their programs. At the same time The Forum will provide information on programs that may not yet be on every club radar, from blind soccer to powerchair football, as well as funding and program development.
As we mentioned earlier, this is not a pathway. Building momentum is a positive start and a first step or two on the rungs of the ladder but the next rungs need to be put in place. This will come as the Soccability Forum becomes more prominent and has the ability to push regional, provincial and national decision makers to support these next steps.
With pandemic restrictions starting to be removed there is a hope that this year will see our first in-person forum. Planning for the future includes;
- Festival growth in all Provinces (Ontario, BC, Quebec primarily)
- Support towards the development of a Canada Soccer coach education course
- Annual participation in provincial soccer conferences/summits as a way to meet in-person and to deliver workshops for new club programs.
There is a lot to be done and Soccability Canada is proud to coordinate that work with partners like those at The Forum table.