Canadian's women's Olympic soccer success inspires youth
Dakota Chan can hardly wait to get back on the soccer pitch, an anxiousness only heightened following the bronze-medal victory by the Canadian women’s soccer team last Thursday at the London Olympics.
The 12-year-old Richmond girl was among the estimated 300 fans who packed the arrivals area at Vancouver International Airport on Monday to welcome home several members of the squad including captain Christine Sinclair, chosen as Canada’s flag bearer for Sunday’s closing ceremonies after her electrifying three-goal effort nearly powered the Canucks past the vaunted Americans (who won gold).
“It was such a big accomplishment and I was very excited for them,” said Chan. “I really wanted to support them when they came home. I knew lots of other people really wanted to cheer them on too, but (the size of the crowd) surprised me a bit.”
Chan believed in the team even when others weren’t so sure.
“I saw them training and they were always trying their hardest,” she said. “I thought they were going to do well even before the Olympics began. I think they did better because of their new coach (John Herdman) who brought them confidence they might not have had before.”
Chan, who began playing soccer at the age of four, has herself long dreamed of playing for Canada at the Olympics and hopes this success will inspire all other girls in Canada to want to play a sport and have similar goals.
“After watching Canada win bronze I’m so much more determined to try my hardest at every practice and every game, while trying to do the best I can and be a role model for everyone around me,” said Chan, who credits coaches Doug Long, Ray Pang and Clive Clarke for helping hone her soccer skills and love of the game.
Opportunity is knocking thanks to the success of the Canadian women’s soccer team, which earned the first Olympic medal by Canada in a traditional summer team sport since 1936. But B.C. Soccer Association president Roger Barnes said it’s up to the various levels of soccer to open the door.
“Just because there’s a knock doesn’t mean you get the response,” he said of the anticipated spike in soccer registration. “It’s up to the national, provincial or local groups to see this is a good opportunity to get more involvement in their sport. The (potential) growth at the grassroots will come from the local clubs by making sure they have good facilities, training and development and coaching.”
Barnes said there is already a strong base of female soccer players in B.C., representing nearly half of the more than 100,000 youth and adult soccer players in the province.
He said the challenge now is to ensure young girls captivated by the Olympics have a positive and fun experience when they’re introduced to youth soccer, and then get quality coaching and the opportunity to learn more skills that will keep them involved in the sport.
“We have a lot players who get to Grade 12 and then don’t continue and that’s something we’re going to have to make a focus,” he said. “We have to make sure those 17- and 18-year-olds have that ready chance to move up. And for the ones who aspire to play at the high-performance level, we need to be able to help them move into that stream.”
The success of the Canadian women’s soccer team in London also comes an opportune time, with Canada set to host the next World Cup here in 2015. And unlike the 1980s during which the Canadian men’s soccer team qualified for the 1986 World Cup, there is the presence of a strong professional league in the form of Major League Soccer and a solid and well-organized team in the market in the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“Media interest is centered around high-profile sport and that is in place,” said Barnes. “The national team program, particularly the women’s side, is competitive as we saw at the Olympics and the men’s program, while facing a tough challenge being in the same group as the U.S. and Mexico, will be energized by the success the women have had.”
But to ensure the Canadian program remains competitive, there needs to be a steady influx of young prospects anxious and ready to take their place on the national teams. Richmond’s own Summer Clarke, 17, is such a player.
Committed to the sport, Clarke (whose older brother Caleb signed his first pro contract earlier this year with the Whitecaps) scored six goals in three games to lead all players at the recent FIFA under-17 World Cup qualifying tournament in Guatemala. Clarke leaves today for Ontario where she’ll join her teammates for a nine-day camp in preparation for the World Cup (held every two teams) Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 in Azerbaijan.
“(The success of the Canadian women’s soccer team) has really inspired my teammates and I to follow in their footsteps and to do our best to get a medal as well,” she said. “I had watched them practice and play a few times during training and thought they looked good and had a chance at getting a medal. It was good to see them passing the ball around and trying to build up the play, instead of the kick-and-run we were used to seeing Canada play. I was proud of how confident they were and how they just kept improving with each game they played.”
Clarke expects more people will watch and support women’s soccer, and soccer in general, as a result of the Olympic success and hopes more media coverage of all levels of soccer will inspire more youth to make soccer their game.
“I also think many young girls will be influenced by the fact Christine Sinclair (of Burnaby) did so well and grew up and played locally,” she said. “They will want to be like her.”
As for herself, Clarke said she is “just going to go out and work hard and try to improve in all areas of the game to increase her chances of being successful and to continue to grow as a player.”
“We still have a long ways to go,” said Stewart MacPherson, executive director of the Richmond Girls’ Soccer Association. “But I think this will inspire kids to look at what can happen. You can’t get any (bigger) world stage than (the Olympics). Every Canadian kid can see we can compete with the best team (U.S.) in the world and should have won (the semifinal) against them.”
Longtime Richmond soccer coach Doug Long deemed the performance by the Canadian women as “spectacular” and said the energy and profile created by the performance will boost youth soccer in Canada.
“While the performance transcends gender, there are some obvious role models for girls and young women,” said Long, who chairs the Richmond Youth Soccer Association.
“Increasing registration and keeping kids playing soccer is fundamental to every youth soccer organization.
“While many elements are required to sustain the gains garnered by the women’s performance at the Olympics, three elements are fundamental. The first element is belief. Soccer organizations need to promote the very legitimate belief of a young girl or boy that participating on the Olympic (or similar) stage is achievable. Second, soccer organizations need to continue to enhance long-term player development-based programming so that players have the means to reach that stage. Third, the Canadian women faced events that could have easily overwhelmed the individual and clearly the strength to continue came from the whole. Soccer organizations need to promote the concept that at an Olympic Stadium or on Boyd oval, the lessons learned from being on a soccer team lend themselves to success in endeavours on and beyond the soccer field.”