Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grassroots Soccer Festival at Gordon School in Welland

What a great day!
  • Gordon School, Welland, Ontario.
  • 146 players from Grades 3,4 and 5.
  • 48 Group and Station leaders from Grade 8 (and some grade 7s)
  • Equipment from 4 supporting organizations
  • Unexpected hot weather
  • Lots of soccer
Last September, with the help of my good friend and teacher, Rino Berardi, we organized a grassroots festival at St Christopher School in St Catharines.  You can read my reflections from that festival.

Today, I was joined by my good friends Carl Horton and Ramin Mohammadi, Grassroots Advisors from the Ontario Soccer Association.  We all attended the FIFA Grassroots Workshop together last year.  They had not been to a festival of this structure and I was only too happy to have a "3 heads are better than one" scenario.

The goal was simple.  Let the kids explore, discover and appreciate soccer on their own.  Let them make the decisions while they play, allowing them to succeed, fail, adjust, re-attempt on their own.  We left them to keep their own score and settle their own disputes.  Let them have FUN.

What led to today:
  • I spoke to John Csuka from Gordon School and he said he was on board.  He ran it by his principal, Tony D'Alessandro, and the Grade 3/4/5/8 teachers and they all liked it.
  • John is an easy sell as he knew what we had done at St Christopher and we've worked together on many soccer initiatives many many times. 
  • The OSA Grassroots department agreed to join in for the event in whatever capacity would be most helpful.
  • We had tossed around a lot of potential days.  June 17 was the fifth day we had to agree on.  Between trips, EQAO, school sports, etc there was never a day when everybody was there.
  • Three weeks ago I emailed the group to explain what was happening.
  • Two weeks ago I went to Gordon School to introduce myself to the Grade 8s.
  • Last 10 days we were organizing equipment.   Special thanks to the OSA, Gordon School, Welland Soccer Club and Niagara College with respect to assembling enough equipment.
  • This morning, Carl and I went to the school to meet and plan with the grade 8s.  We gave each one a sheet with the activities and rough sketch of a field map.  See below.
  • After our in-class session, we all went outside and spent the rest of the morning, setting the field up and making adjustments
  • We reviewed each station with all of the leaders
  • Coach Carl ran the leaders through a dressed rehearsal of how they move through the stations.
  • We had 10 stations.  We gave each teacher playing cards from 1-10 to hand to students to tell them what station they were in.  See Reflection 1 below.
  • We ran the festival in 10 minute shifts.
  • We took a LOT of pictures.
  • The leaders helped us clean up and pack up.
At it's most basic, soccer needs two people and a ball.  For putting on such an event we needed a bit more.  Today we had:
  • 100+ pinnies
  • 140 balls
  • 10 sets of mini goals
  • At least 200 cones
  • 2 large cooler/jugs for students to refill
  • Enough space
Apart from my reflections last year, I have a few more to add.

Carl always ready to photo bomb :)
Reflection 1.

We gave each teacher cards to hand to their students.  The kids came out and were directed to their station.  That was different than last time and worked "OK" .  Carl's idea for next time would be to have the group leaders waiting in a line outside the door and the players could join their groups there, then walk to their start point together.  It would be far more organized that way and we will keep that in mind for next time.

Reflection 2.

The stations were more of a game/contest nature than any kind of skills.  I found last time the kids were lost on what to do.  This time the activities were game based, but I left a 1v1 station.  The kids found it difficult to deliver.  Next time we either remove that or find 4 sets of mini goals to make the game easier to explain.

Reflection 3.

We were not ready for the heat that hit us today.  There was threat of rain and supposed to be cloudy. 45 minutes in, I thought I was in Mexico and it negatively affected the kids.  One teacher was smart in moving the drinks to the shade.  The kids were running out of gas about 90 minutes in.  I will have to give this one some thought.

Reflection 4.

We handed more control of the event to the Grade 8 leaders than last time, and they impressed again.  The adults organized and monitored, but it was delivered by the kids, for the kids.  Ramin was very impressed by the effectiveness of the students in doing what they were asked to do.  I credit their teachers for their "hands off" attitude.  There was one brief interaction where a teacher felt some of the children were too young to be heading a ball during a juggling station and asked the leader to not introduce that.  The main problem was they were doing it improperly.  I agreed with her and will note that for subsequent events.

Reflection 5.

Invite and include a lot of people to share the love.  I can't tell you how happy I was that Carl and Ramin came to Welland.  They both know the message that's being delivered and understand what we are trying to achieve.  Both Grade 8 teachers were comfortable with us and offered valuable insight that I will certainly take with me to our next festival.  John has the perfect "let the kids play" mentality and had good ideas.  I had invited some other friends who were
unable to attend.

Reflection 6.

Not really a reflection, but a reinforcement.  Step back and let the students run the show.  They are more than capable.

Reflection 7.

Refine the intro message to the school.  People think "Schools would love a day of soccer", but that isn't always the case.  I've had friends who are principals avoid the discussion.  The response hasn't been negative;  it's been "iffy" most times.  It's definitely not that they don't want the students to have good life experiences.  The challenge is you need somebody to champion the event inside the school.  Finding a school where all the teachers involved are willing to give up their class for 2+ hours, re-arrange recess and lunch schedules and allow an outsider to interact with students is a bit of a task if it's not an "inside job".  I am an employee with OCT credentials, but at the school I am still an outsider.  Hopefully, word of each successful event spreads and that opens the door a little further. 

As coaches, we can have all the training in the world and walk around with our fancy embroidered  shirts, but if the teachers don't agree and buy into what's happening, the festivals do not happen.   So the most thanks and appreciation goes to them.

I have ideas on where I would like to take this type of event.   I am an employee of both NCDSB and DSBN in Niagara and have  clearance to be in the schools.  With access to equipment and an effective network of people, the resources are there to make these events happen.  It is a very enjoyable outlet for my enthusiasm for the game without the hassles of what comes with coaching formal soccer.  I truly enjoy the formal, competitive soccer, but this type of activity has a different buzz that's difficult to explain.

Document given to each Grade 8 leader, Front

Document given to each Grade 8 leader,Back