There was beautiful weather last weekend and plenty of excitement in the air to go along with it, as another local youth soccer season is underway.
Certainly there was a carnival atmosphere last Saturday at the Gyro Youth Sports Fields located at Beban Park. Hundreds of young players were involved in matches, amidst colourful banners, music and displays involving police cars and fire trucks. Not to mention a referees’ clinic that had a large group of aspiring young officials practising their whistle blowing!
It has been a year since youth soccer in Nanaimo was rebranded as Harbour City Football Club, but the change in name hasn’t impacted the large numbers of players signing up. Again this season, about 1,600 have registered in the various age groups for boys and girls.
Elections last spring brought new faces to the club’s Board of Directors. Taking over as president this year is Ian Johnson, with Scott Saywell the vice president. Club secretary is Adrian Collery and treasurer is Jameel Sayani. Jason Kozubal is the equipment manager, Erick Groot is the registrar, Gunnar Myhrer coordinates volunteers and Tony Ciammaichella is the health and safety officer. Coordinator for the U6-U10 age divisions is Bobbie Taylor, while Tony Zuccaro coordinates the U11-U18 divisions.
Returning to HCFC as technical director is Claude Bolton, who leads the club’s player development centre and academy. The emphasis is on developing skills for young players and increasing participation in the sport while still offering a place for more talented players to shine.
For beginning players, fun and skill development comes with what is termed ìsmall sidedî games. There was a time when even the youngest players in Nanaimo soccer played on 11-aside teams on full-sized fields. That changed in the 1970’s, when Bob Arnold, Bill Morris and myself led the start of the Pony League concept of 7-aside teams on smaller fields. The benefits of the concept were gradually recognized and the program has continued to evolve since that time. Now it is usually called mini soccer, accepted as a fun and developmentally appropriate environment for young players which gives them more touches on the ball and more exciting games. It is the basis for HCFC’s young player development.
This season, Saturdays at Beban fields sees 13 teams at the U6 age level playing 3-aside games on small fields with no goal keepers. Another 15 U7 teams and 15 U8 teams play 4-aside, also without goal keepers. There are 10 teams of U9 players and 15 at the U10 level, who take the next step by playing 6-aside games that introduce the position of goal keeper. At each of these mini levels, the youngsters play in double-sided games, meaning that they are actually involved in two games at once on adjacent fields. There’s never a dull moment!
Now, the small-sided concept has again been expanded. This year, U11 to U14 players will play an 8 vs 8 format, again designed to allow players more chances to touch the ball. These matches will be played mainly at the Beban artificial turf fields and will include an interlocking schedule with house teams from Mid Isle, Oceanside and Gabriola clubs.
On Sunday, the older players take to the soccer pitch. Harbour City FC has a number of U15 ñU18 boys’ and girls’ house teams that represent the club in the Tier 3 Upper Island League. These teams compete against competition from Mid Isle, Oceanside, Powell River, Port Alberni and Campbell River. Some of the matches are on the newly refurbished Bowen West field, which garnered plenty of positive reviews last weekend.
In addition to the above teams, there are also five clubs including Harbour City which have players competing on teams in the Vancouver Island Premier League. This is the opportunity for more talented older players to gain experience at a higher level of competition.
The youth soccer season runs through until the start of March, with players usually involved in one game and at least one practice each week. During December and January the younger divisions of mini soccer move their games inside local gyms.
Of course a bit or rain and wind is all part of the soccer experience and my feeling is that players don’t mind it nearly as much as the spectators huddled on the sidelines. That said, we’ll hope for plenty of mild Saturdays for the hordes of enthusiastic young players having fun and learning skills on the Gyro Sports Fields at Beban Park. Check them out to see what I mean!
Whatever your sport, a reminder in closing to play your hardest, play fair, and show good sportsmanship.