Friday, September 20, 2013

Grassroots Soccer Festival at St Christopher School in St Catharines

On Tuesday, Septemer 17, I had the pleasure of organizing a Grassroots Soccer Festival for the Grade 3/4/5 students at St Christopher School in St Catharines, ON.

In June 2014, I was one of 30 coaches invited to a FIFA Grassroots Soccer course held in Toronto, hosted by the Ontario Soccer Association.  The objective of the course was simple "Football for Everybody".  What we did at St Christopher was based squarely on what we did during this course.

Back to the festival.

I've been itching to do one of these festivals at a school since the course.  I've organized similar group events for multiple teams to come together in a "station" type set up, but a school is where I wanted to find myself at some point.  For me, it's a good way to present an enjoyable side of soccer and a
positive way for me to represent the soccer bodies who make this possible for me, namely the Welland SC , Niagara College, OSA and  Niagara Soccer Association .

Rino Berardi coaches with me at Niagara College and teaches at St Christopher School.  I am already a board employee with a valid police check, so entering the school and interfacing with the students was possible with no major administrative hurdles.  Rino spoke to his principal, Roger Demers, and we were off to the races.  I know Roger and his family and he is the proud father of five active children.

Reflection #3  The kids didn't need me to tell them when to play
Rino reported 60 students in total, 3 teachers, 3 Educational Assistant, plus twenty Grade 8 students as helpers.  Within the 60 students we had soccer players, non-players, athletic and non-athletic kids and students who had exceptionalities.

I went to school on Monday to meet with the grade 8 class for 30 minutes and everybody was
assigned a job.  The principle and I reinforced the messages for the day
  • Inclusion
  • Fair play
  • FUN
  • Plenty of high fives
  • Be positive and make the younger kids feel special
The Welland Soccer Club was kind enough to lend us 40 balls, 60 pinnies and 3 sets of portable goals.  The back of the school, playground and field, was PERFECT.

Tuesday was a beautiful day.  18'C, no wind and very sunny.  Once again, we are shown that God is a soccer fan.

The organization was simple.
  • We had 12 teams of 5 students each, mixed ages and genders.
  • We had 6 stations, 3 game, 3 activity.
  • Each station had a grade 8 student in charge and each group had a grade 8 student as "coach".
  • One student manned the video camera and another was my assistant and kept the place organized.
  • Eat each station there were 3 grade 8s (1 at station, 2 with teams)
  • We set up the festival while everybody was at lunch and we did a dry-run of how to move through stations.  Orange teams rotated one way, yellow the other.
  • We demonstrated and rehearsed each activity station.
The stage was set and students came outside.  My plan was to just make teams of 5 and send them with a leader to their station, but the teachers had already divided the kids into 12 groups and I thought that was very helpful.

Reflection #1.  Ask teachers to divide the students.  They know who has exceptionalities and personality conflicts.

We had 10-minute stations with 2-minute breaks.  We had to shorten the last two stations because recess time was approaching and two of the drink breaks took a bit longer.

Reflection #2  I should have brought the college's Gatorade jugs and set them up outside filled with water.

I was wondering how the festival would be for the first station.  It turned out that we didn't even need to start it, the grade 8s got everything going on their own.  Within a minute or arriving to their stations, all games and activities were underway.

Reflection #3  The kids didn't need me to tell them when to play  :)  Fight the urge to control/interfere with the soccer.

In a nutshell, the orange and yellow teams made their way through each station.  We had them move in opposite directions so they did not have to play each other twice.

There was a LOT of soccer played in roughly 90 minutes.  A lot of laughing, sweating and bragging happening all around.

Reflection #4  Ask a child to "show off" for you, and they will.  So give them the chance to do so.

During the session the teachers were basically taking care of the usual things that happen between kids and taking some indoor for washroom/drink breaks (they have the cards to open the door) .

I ended up being the timekeeper as one student was sick and we needed to replace a team "coach".  Other than blowing the whistle to change stations, they didn't need me.

Reflection #5.  Read reflection #3.
  • For the student players, they were able to play and discover soccer for 90 minutes with almost zero adult intervention.
  • For the student leaders, they were given complete authority after the program started; and responded with maturity and responsibility.
  • For the school, it's a great extension of phys-ed and a short term immersion in a single sport.
  • For the teachers, they get a chance to see another way of delivering an activity for a bigger group and a chance to back off and just let the kids play.
  • For the principal/school, it provides and opportunity to let multiple grades work together.
  • For me, I just enjoyed the soccer that was happening all around.
Some feedback from the staff:
  • Longer stations might have ruined it
  • More stations would have made it more complicated to deliver
  • The festival was nice and simple
  • Nice intro to soccer for some, with familiar faces, away from club situation
  • Having the students and their EAs participate was great
  • Glad to see it was safe (except for one bee sting)
  • Would have been nice to remind the better kids to share the ball more and engage other players
Rino and I were talking about it afterwards.  We both agreed it went well and the kids seemed to really enjoy themselves.  Always the scout, Rino came to me several times to point some students out in terms of creativity and athleticism.

Reflection #6 When trusted and given a job, Grade 8s will never disappoint.  They "run the show" at the school and want to be treated as adults.

Reflection #7 With various ages and co-ed teams, games were still moving and everybody involved.  Maybe it's the adults who drive the wedge between ages and genders?

I really hope to be able to do this again and have laid some ground work with two other schools.  The experience that St Christopher allowed me is invaluable.   We will run out of good weather soon so we are limited in how many we can do.  Hopefully two more in the fall and more in the spring.

The decision for me to go to the school rather than host something for multiple schools to come to was simple.  Getting more than 2 schools together requires a bus.  $$.  It requires taking students off school property so now we are into "field trip" logistics.  Seeing I had no barriers to just walking into a school and interfacing with students, it was much simpler.  The program is easy to deliver and easy to convey to another person wishing to do the same.

A few phone calls for equipment and some organization would be all you need to host a festival at your school.  Please contact me if you would like any advice.

Thanks to St Christopher School, Mr. Roger Demers, Mr. Rino Berardi, Mr. Paul Lukacs, Mr. David Watson, Mr. Alex Imre, St Christopher Grade 8s and and most of all, the students who played.  You made my day!

After sharing this with Bobby Lennox, our Manager of Grassroots Development at the Ontario Soccer Association, he asked a tough question ; "What's next?"

How we follow up with our initial enthusiasm is key to growing this component of the soccer community.  I hope to have that conversation with him and others very soon.