Following about two decades of Winnipeg and area minor soccer players being told where to play and who to play for, the 2020 outdoor season will mark the first time that athletes and their parents will be free to make that choice.
Late last month, the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association board of directors and district reps voted in favour of opening those boundaries for the coming season and doing away with the process of players having to apply to the Manitoba Soccer Association for a transfer outside of their catchment area.
Freedom of choice is a format a majority of provincial soccer associations across the country have adopted for years. And it’s also a format that has been advocated by Canada Soccer’s director of development, Jason deVos, as the best way to grow and improve the sport.
So why did it take up until now for Winnipeg Youth Soccer to give this the green light?
WYSA Executive Director Carlo Bruneau says that the somewhat historic decision coincided with some of the changes that have been a work in progress for the past 12-18 months at the national and provincial levels.
“Removing the boundaries is something that has been discussed internally over the last number of years,” said Bruneau. “The Board just felt the time was right to open up the player registration boundaries and provide a new format for our players best interests.”
Bruneau says the main driver of change is the Club Licensing Program, launched by Canada Soccer and adopted by the Manitoba Soccer Association about two years ago. The main themes are creating a safe environment of openness, inclusion, and accessibility.
Any youth club or academy wanting to be sanctioned at the provincial and national level has to meet a total of 37 requirements to earn the designation of being a Quality Soccer Provider.
Some of these requirements are as basic as providing a name, address, and phone number for an organization. But Bruneau says there are other elements that have all been included on behalf of the player and their parents.
“There is the rule of two, where an athlete is never alone with one coach or adult. There are certain rules on volunteer screening,” Bruneau said, adding, “there are certain levels of coaching requirements coaches need to meet to ensure players are receiving quality instruction.”
Manitoba Soccer Association Executive Director Hector Vergara believes it all comes down to “serving the customer.” — something that has been lacking in this province, but has to be addressed. “If a player or parent is unhappy with a club team or an organization- we’d much prefer to have a system in place that allows them to find a better fit, rather than not playing,” said Vergara. “But I don’t believe this is going to result in a lot of movement from the current organizations or club teams.”
Vergara feels a majority of parents and players will want to continue to being aligned with the program that is closest to them, and doesn’t involve a 45-minute or hour-long drive across the city. But Vergara does want to see a shift from clubs and academies to organizations.
“The key here is the MSA has, for a long time now, been looking at academy sanctioning policies,” Vergara said. “Now that club licensing has come forward, it has allowed now for soccer organizations to be part of that system.”
One of three academies in Manitoba that has earned the QSP designation is 1V1, whose technical director and part-owner, Nano Romero, said he’s ecstatic with the WYSA decision.
“It’s great, not only for our program, but for all the kids who last year didn’t play,” Romero said. “I have to congratulate WYSA and all the Board members, everyone who was involved, because it’s also going to create competition among clubs and academies to provide better service.
“If you don’t, you won’t be in business for very long.”
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Bruneau is unsure of just how many athletes were not eligible to play in WYSA leagues the past few summers, but he’s hopeful there will be an increase in registration numbers for 2020, and Vergara would love nothing better than to see athletes remain in the sport, as well.
“At the end of the day we want the child and the parent to make a decision as to where they would like to play in the system where they feel safe, and they are going to have fun,” Vergara said.
“Hopefully they enjoy the game for the rest of their lives, and whether it’s recreational, competitive or high performance level, it doesn’t matter.”