Soccer: the struggles, the hopes and the growth

Local coaches talk recent growth within TRU and obstacles for Kamloops youth soccer

Although soccer is a popular sport in Kamloops and interest at TRU has spiked, there is still room to grow, especially at the youth level.

The Kamloops Youth Soccer Association (KYSA) has 117 fewer players than it did in 2013, according to registration data from KYSA executive director Keith Liddiard.

“Youth soccer in Kamloops is not growing at the moment,” Liddiard said. “Registration has been pretty stable the last few years.”

Athletes like Marlie Rittinger, seen here, have seen soccer struggle to grow their whole lives. (TRU Athletics)

Athletes like Marlie Rittinger, seen here, have seen soccer struggle to grow their whole lives. (TRU Athletics)

But Kamloops coaches are still optimistic concerning soccer’s growth and engagement among youth in B.C.

“A lot of people don’t realize this, but soccer has actually taken over as a youth sport all throughout Canada and the United States,” said Tom McManus, head coach of WolfPack women’s soccer and former head coach and technical director of KYSA.

McManus, who also has coaching experience on a national level, said soccer has been the predominant choice for youth for roughly 20 years, with more children playing soccer than hockey. This is mainly due to soccer’s low equipment costs and accessibility.

John Antulov, the WolfPack men’s soccer head coach, agreed, saying “soccer is the highest participatory sport … with the KYSA here, there are almost 3,800 kids playing soccer in Kamloops.”

Antulov estimated that there are another 2,000 to 3,000 women and men playing soccer in Kamloops outside of KYSA.

“If you look at a small town like Kamloops, you have almost 7,000 people playing soccer. That is pretty significant,” Antulov said.

Despite soccer having interest and high participation numbers, the sport is facing difficulties.

“Finance is a huge factor,” McManus said. “Unfortunately today, some clubs are beginning to charge a lot of money for kids to play soccer. I know some players are not playing for the cost factor, and that’s a shame. I want soccer for everybody. I want everyone to keep playing at whatever age.”

TRU soccer player Jacob Kaay. (TRU Athletics)

TRU soccer player Jacob Kaay. (TRU Athletics)

While soccer numbers have decreased at the youth level, TRU has seen an increase in interest since it changed to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) in September.

“I would say we get triple the emails that we usually get,” Antulov said. “Our last ID camp we had close to 50 [participants], and we usually averaged about 30. We’re seeing a significant jump in interest.”

But that doesn’t mean that Antulov can add more players to his roster.

“We just don’t have the finances to keep a lot of players. Budgets are very tight,” Antulov said. “Geographically, it’s very spread out here. It costs a lot of money for travel, which a lot of people can’t afford. You need to have an organization backing you up.”

Both McManus and Antulov agreed that although soccer has a widespread interest and participatory engagement in Kamloops, it still has potential to expand. But for that to happen, both coaches said changes need to occur in local soccer organizations, starting with funding that can support new opportunities. McManus shared an example from Manitoba, where he used to coach their professional soccer team, the Winnipeg Fury.

“They got money from the Government of Canada, from Manitoba and from the city to help them build this [indoor] facility, and it’s an absolutely beautiful facility,” McManus said. “I would love to have something like it here on campus.”

“Soccer as a sport in Kamloops can be very successful. It can be the number one sport and it can continue to be that. We just have to make sure that we are getting good indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, whatever we can get,” McManus said.