Ladysmith got a first-hand look at the changing face of Canadian soccer at a recent series of training sessions.
Four members of Canada’s Olympic women’s soccer team hit the pitch in Ladysmith Thursday and Friday to work on skills and inspire players with the Mid-Isle Soccer Club.
“We wanted to come out to the Island and just chat with the kids and bring our medal and show them that if they dream big anything is possible. We wanted them to be able to touch the medal and see that we’re living proof that if you work hard anything is possible,” said Karina LeBlanc, goalkeeper with the Canadian team that captured bronze at the 2012 Games in London.
“It’s a chance to talk with the kids, tell our stories and talk about some obstacles we’ve overcome.”
Mike Rankin, vice-president of the Mid-Isle Soccer Club, said the visit by the Olympians was a real hit with the younger players.
“The session with the younger kids was just fantastic to see these kids with stars in their eyes having so much fun with their soccer heroes,” said Rankin.
“Not only are they world-class athletes, they’re all very accomplished speakers. They’re really strong role models for youth and our club, and coming as it does at the start of the soccer season it’s a fantastic chance to get everybody pumped up.”
One of those getting pumped up by the chance to meet Canada’s stars was Hannah Stannard, a fullback with the U17 VIPL Upper Island Storm.
“I love that they’re doing all this, it’s really cool,” said the 16-year-old who helped the national team members with one of the training sessions for younger players. “Just the experience and being able to work with them, it boosts your confidence.”
While the crowd at Friday’s leadership luncheon was mainly girls, Rankin said the training sessions drew a fairly even mix of boys and girls.
Female players represent a growing segment of soccer across the country, and Rankin estimates girls represent close to 40 per cent of the 400-plus players with Mid-Isle Soccer Club.
“Our house league teams for girls are stuffed full, said Rankin, adding the club is seeing more growth among girls.
Diana Matheson, a midfield/forward with the national team, said she’s noticed the growth in women’s soccer since she started playing at the age of five.
“We’ve always had a ton of support at home games but after London I think it just pushed it over the edge. Canadians just love their soccer right now,” said Matheson.
The women’s game is expected to get another major boost next summer when Canada plays host to the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“I think Canada is ready to come out in number and cheer for women’s soccer and especially for Canada at home,” said Matheson. “It’s going to be up to us to deliver a performance that’s going to keep them interested through the tournament and beyond.”