Soccer comes off the bench, slowly

Coquitlam Metro-Ford started practice sessions in late June. PoCo Euro-Rite FC begins a four-week training program on July 6

Soccer is back. But it’s going to be a while yet before it’s fully come off the sidelines.

Coquitlam Metro-Ford Soccer Club held its first organized sessions for U13 to U18 players in late June, while Port Coquitlam Euro-Rite FC launches a four-week summer training program on July 6. Port Moody Soccer Club has yet to announce its plans, although it has opened registrations for fall programs.

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CMFSC executive director Sara Maglio said the early workouts are expected to become the template for summer training camps in July and August, and likely into the new season in the fall.

PoCo soccer’s vice president Sean Walker said the short return to play that is free to players already registered for its fall season will likely be a preview of things to come.

“We want our kids to be on the ball and on the field getting some touches,” he said. “We don’t know what we’ll look like in the fall.”

CMFSC’s Maglio said for now, one of British Columbia’s biggest soccer organizations with 4,000 youth and adult players is thinking small, with an emphasis on skills development like passing and dribbling drills, with an eventual return to small-sided games that involve limited numbers of players on the pitch. She said the early returns have been encouraging.

“We definitely saw a lot of smiles,” she said. “The biggest thing was getting to be together with their teammates.”

In fact, Maglio added, other than the constant reminders from coaches for players to stay apart, the ubiquitous presence of hand sanitizer on the sidelines, and the careful attention being paid to the arrival and departure of players, soccer practice in the midst of a pandemic looks pretty much like regular training at any other time. 

But whether players and families will be satisfied with just a constant diet of training in place of competition is still unknown.

Maglio said CMFSC extended its registration window for the fall season to give families a chance to see what that might look like before committing their money.

“We’re hopeful we’ll be into the next phase by September, which will allow us to do a few more things,” Maglio said.

Walker said the response to PoCo soccer’s truncated summer program has been encouraging, with more than 50 families signing on in the first hour of registration opening on June 27 and a couple hundred more quickly following. But, he added, registration for the fall season is behind the pace of previous years.

Walker said he suspects parents are being cautious about the trajectory of the public health emergency.

Like every amateur sports organization in the province, CMFSC and PoCo Euro-Rite are modelling their returns to play according to guidelines recommended by viaSport, as well as BC Soccer.

The first of three phases stipulated by BC Soccer, that allows for modified training, started on June 12.

There’s still no timeline for a move to the second phase that will permit some interclub or even regional competition with limited spectators.

Maglio said the uncertainty of the pandemic’s progression, and even what is meant by “regional play,” makes it difficult to plan ahead.

“We’re all unsure of where we’ll be in September,” she said, adding the organization is being careful not to make any missteps by getting too far ahead of itself.

“Just like anything new, you want to make sure you get it right.”

Walker said PoCo players participating in the summer program will be limited to working from designated areas on the pitch, and practising individual skills like ball handling as well as some passing.

“We’re allowed to use our feet,” he said. “But no one is allowed to pick up a ball, or a cone or a net.”

Maglio said the emphasis will be on making the return to soccer fun and enjoyable.

“That’s our number one priority,” she said.

And if that philosophy connects with families, it could have implications for years into the future, as players and coaches now have the time and motivation to focus on development rather than preparing for matches.

“The training-to-game ratio should be higher,” Maglio said,

Walker agreed.

“Any opportunity to touch the ball is an opportunity to learn,” he said.

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