Saskatchewan Soccer celebrates inclusion.

This past weekend the Saskatchewan Soccer Association (SSA) continued their commitment towards inclusion and accessibility in soccer with the hosting of a Soccability Canada workshop to help inform grassroots clubs about the broad range of soccer formats that exist.

Ten delegates from grassroots clubs, the provincial soccer organization (PSO) and the provincial rugby association were in attendance for a three-hour workshop in Regina. Hosted at the state-of-the-art Mosaic stadium, home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Mosaic Stadium, Regina.

The workshop walked the candidates through the streams of para soccer, an introduction to pan disability soccer, appropriate language and finished with a brief on field session of blind soccer to give everyone an immersive experience of one form of adaptive soccer. This workshop had been planned two years previously put due to the pandemic it couldn’t be done in person until this weekend. Early in the pandemic the Saskatchewan Soccer through the leadership of Rahim Mohamed and his vision for a broader more inclusive soccer structure in Saskatchewan had included an online workshop briefly discussing disability soccer but focusing on walking soccer and with this new-found information the SSA has now started a program. The SSA should be commended on its celebration of inclusivity and in our discussions with the SSA staff we were made aware of a thriving female mentorship program for match officials and coaching staff, and a strong partnership with the University of Regina soccer program including female head coach Astrid Baecker, daughter of Saskatchewan soccer legend Udo Baecker.

Coaches learn about the role of the Guide in field orientation for blind soccer.
Two grassroots club leaders learn about the important role of the Guide.
A player learning how to scan for the ball.

Following the workshop a short on field session with local youth was delivered on the Friday morning and we had the pleasure of meeting local youngsters, some who identified as having a disability while others just wanted to learn more about inclusion and how accessible the sport of soccer can be. We were fortunate to meet with Saskatchewan Blind Sport Association representatives who were astounded by the visceral way in which blind soccer engages and empowers athletes to be active. The use of eyeshades were nothing new for these sport leaders as they are mandatory in the sport of goalball, but they quickly identified the benefits of blind soccer from the challenge of listening for the audible ball to the body’s range of movement through 360 degrees and the opportunity to dribble against an opponent and shoot on goal were something they felt were incredible and needed to be pursued within the Province. We hope to be out there again soon to meet with their staff and potential athletes from the blind sport association and the CNIB to grow blind soccer there.

Coach Matt guiding a young player back to the group.

With every workshop we deliver it’s an opportunity for us to learn as much as the delegates in the room and this was no different. While discussing appropriate language and how it may vary from country to country, province to province and even from sport to sport we were not prepared for the open sharing of experiences from one or two of the delegates that really resonated with us. The discussion around the word ‘invalid’ which we typically know to mean INvalid and widely regarded as not an appropriate word is also used as inVALID for example when you type a password into the computer and it’s incorrect. During this discussion we learned of a third interpretation of the word invalid which was really a label attached to certain people or segments of the community implied to mean they were worthless. We are proud of the fact people felt comfortable enough to open up about this as this was clearly a very personal experience for each of them and on reflection the nature of the workshop created an environment for people to safely share their lived experience.

SSA Staff Markus and Michelle discuss appropriate language.

The Saskatchewan Soccer Association team led by Rahim with Markus, Jennifer, Michelle, Adam, and Steven can be really proud of the direction they’re taking the sport in Saskatchewan. The message of inclusion that they’re sending to the membership is strong and there was know better way to deliver on that than their ‘Soccer Day in Saskatchewan’ of which our Soccability workshop was a part. Not only were provincial semifinals and finals held at the same location over the course of the weekend, but also free 3 on 3 youth and adult soccer festivals, a skills program and 2 junior soccer camps (led by University of Regina players and staff). Soccer in Saskatchewan is not without its challenges, no different to any other P/TSO but as we start at the start of our workshops:

Clearly SSA have placed their stake in the ground.

The question remains which provincial soccer association will step up next and #ChooseToInclude? With Ontario Soccer and Saskatchewan Soccer now promoting disability soccer to their membership we are hopeful that other associations will see the value of wider inclusion and accessibility.

Saskatchewan players and families #Choose To Include

If you are a provincial soccer organization (PSO) and want to host a workshop, please let us know. If you’re a club that would like to see this hosted by your PSO or in your region, then please reach out and we will do our best to make this happen.

Saskatchewan, Land of the Living Skies.

Photo Credit: Kelley Lueck, Salient Graphics.

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