The Winter Classic Indoor soccer tournament wrapped up in Calgary on Sunday. Over 750 young soccer players from across the province took part in the annual event, but out of the 73 teams taking part, only 11 were girls’ teams.
“The numbers don’t lie,” said Jordan Stewart, the technical leader of Calgary Minor Soccer Association (CMSA). “There’s a definite need for a focus on the female side of the game.”
He said in the past six years, girls’ registration in outdoor soccer is down 25 per cent, compared to boys which is down seven per cent.
“In six years you can say that we’ve lost a quarter of them,” Stewart said.
New inflatable dome at Calgary’s Shouldice Park ready for action
The recent Rally Report from Canadian Women & Sport shows that participation rates of girls in Canadian sport have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but by adolescence, half of girls are not taking part in sports.
The survey also showed that sport leaders are not equipped to address the needs of girls. Less than half of coaches received training on how to create quality opportunities for girls in sport.
Stewart said CMSA is shifting the training environment so that coaches look at the person rather than just the player.
“They are shifting their priorities from just training soccer players to trying to create better people. Trying to meet the needs of that individual rather than trying to have a performance on Saturday,” he said.
“A training environment that prioritizes things like mental health and well-being and social connection and physical health and confidence and enjoyment over just training the soccer and sports specific skills.”
Both the CMSA and players say girls want meaningful competition.
“Probably more options with teams where you can go to higher levels because once you get to certain levels if you want to progress and go to higher levels, there’s only so many places you can go,” said 13-year-old Ella Wightman who was playing in the tournament.
“We play against the same five teams every week. There’s only five girls’ teams in our age group,” added Brooke Simonson, Wightman’s 13-year-old teammate.
It’s not just about playing a game, according to Stewart — it’s about the life skills and confidence girls learn on the pitch that will help them in the workforce. And for teens, it’s about the friends.
“If you look at the stats around female business leaders and how many of them have grown up playing sports, this is not just leading to a better physical outcome, this is leading to a better life outcome. This is leading to gender equality, and this piece is of vital importance in the CMSA,” Stewart said. “To make sure that these young women have pathways open to them and ability to pursue the game at whatever level they want.”
‘Horrible legacy of COVID’: Canadian girls forced onto sidelines may not return to sport
There’s a wide range of priorities from kids who just want to play for fun and those who want to play professionally, but Stewart said it always goes back to having fun.
“If they enjoy their experience, they are going to be in it longer than if they don’t enjoy their experience,” he said. “So the pieces we are finding to help them enjoy the experience are meaningful competition within their leagues, great training environment, and actually being able to have a smile on their face when they both get to training and when they leave training.
“Shift the model and shift the mindset to meet the needs of these young women at the end of the day.”
CMSA is currently researching information like that contained in Rally Report to try and find out what girls are wanting out of their sporting experience and to apply that so they stay involved.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.