With summer on the horizon, Niagara-on-the-Lake Soccer Club president Ted VanderKaay is optimistic that young people will be on the pitch beginning the last weekend of May.
Registration via the online portal opened last week. VanderKaay is encouraging parents to begin signing up their children for divisions from Timbits (U4/5 - born in 2016 or 2017) up to U17 - born in 2004).
According to the 77-page Ontario Soccer Association’s (OSA) Return to Play guide, minor soccer games can be played as long as the local public health unit is in either the orange, yellow or green zone of the province’s colour-coded system. In the grey and Niagara’s current red zone status, games are prohibited, though limited outdoor training is allowed.
“We all kind of hope and expect that we get to the orange rating sooner rather than later,” says VanderKaay. “It may not be next week, but we’re hoping by May that we will be. We’re saying register now, and we expect to be playing as the region opens up to the orange zone, and we’ll have policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of our participants and our spectators.”
The volunteer board has been busily working through the winter on developing those policies and procedures to meet with both OSA and public health guidelines. Changes include instituting a maximum soccer “bubble” of 100 to be enforced this summer, with no intermingling outside of those bubbles.
As well, for the first time the club will have field marshals at all games. Their role will be to ensure that both players and spectators adhere to the COVID-19 rules. There will also be a self-check assessment recorded on game sheets and contact tracing logs. Masks will not be worn on the field, but players will have to put them on while they are on the bench.
In 2020, the almost 400 NOTL youth who usually play in town were kept off the pitch due to COVID-19. VanderKaay says it was the uncertainty of the early stages of the pandemic that forced the decision.
“The town, the region, the government, no one knew what to expect. There were park closures (by the town) because no one knew what to expect with that. The bright side this year is that there is more knowledge in terms of outdoor activities. I had a meeting with public health last week, and the town the week before. Both are pretty optimistic and encouraging for getting youth activities going outdoors.”
He continues, “there’s more public guidance in terms of social distancing, sanitation, those types of things. The fact of the matter is, after a year of this, all the governing bodies have a better knowledge base to make decisions on and guidance for the players and spectators outdoors this year.”
Most of the kids who play in town participate in house league programs every year, but the club does run a few local travel, or rep teams. As of press time, the particulars that apply to their competition had not yet been ironed out.
“We hope to run four travel teams this year,” VanderKaay explains, “but right now I know nothing about how the NSL (Niagara Soccer League) is going to manage the leagues and what we can expect. We’re still waiting for direction from them.”
There is no doubt that, with all that children have had to deal with for the past year, a return to some physical activity would be a big boost to their mental health. A University of Michigan department of psychology study has shown that for children and adolescents, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and exercise are associated with elevations in self-esteem, improved concentration, reductions in depression, and improvements in sleep. And the World Health Organization says that for children, regular physical activity helps support healthy growth and development.
“The town and the region are really behind us, trying to get kids outdoors,” an enthusiastic VanderKaay says. “It’s good for their mental health, it’s good for their physical and social well-being, and with the guidance from them, and Ontario Soccer, we can forge forward with confidence saying we can do this.”
The not-for-profit club is still actively recruiting local businesses for sponsorship of teams for the upcoming season, though club officials recognize that many business owners are feeling a financial pinch from the pandemic. In spite of that, registration fees for 2021 are holding at the same price as they were back in 2019.
VanderKaay adds that all registrations are being done online this year, to avoid any in-person contact. As well, a move to a new platform provided by Power-Up Sports means that families who had previously been in the club’s system may have to create a new account.
To register your child for soccer this summer visitnotlsoccer.ca.