While there is no argument to be made that hockey is the sport of choice in Canada, and CFL football the choice in Saskatchewan, the football-hockey style game that engages the largest number of people in the world is one that is sadly underrepresented in the region.
The Moose Mountain Soccer Association is seeking to change that problem by introducing students at Carlyle Elementary School to the sport through a day of workshops held on Thursday, Sept. 2.
Students from grades one to five were cycled through the program that day, receiving an introduction to the sport which is watched by literally billions across the globe.
Taught by the Saskatchewan Soccer Association's Udo Baecker, the coordinator of sports for all programs, the clinic offered a chance for students to learn the basics about ball handling, positions, and rules.
Baecker, who was trained in the sport in his hometown, a few kilometres east of Cologne, Germany, is also the assistant coach to the Saskatchewan provincial soccer team.
Sheila Menard, the president of the Moose Mountain Soccer Association, was instrumental in setting up the event.
"There was a time when the local soccer team was a considerable presence in the province," Menard said. "We want to bring that back by introducing and welcoming new players into the sport of soccer."
"Besides the positive benefits in assisting physical development in children, soccer provides a structured venue for play," Menard said. "The standard is that a child should have at least 45 minutes of exercise a day, and soccer is a great way to provide that exercise."
In the early evening on the day of the clinic, Baecker also hosted a coaches clinic at the school, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
"We want to build the entire infrastructure of soccer back up to where it used to be in the area," Menard said. "It is a great opportunity for parents to get involved with their kids, and help form a core of soccer players for the future."
The Saskatchewan Soccer Association certifies coaches, and provides certified members for workshops and other events.
Many of the members of the SSA are former world players themselves, and bring with them an extensive understanding of the sport.
"We usually just have soccer in the spring," Menard said. "This year, we hope to host a 'Soccer Jam,' for players, parents, and people who are interested in the sport."
For Baecker, the introduction to the sport has more to do with providing children an exercise outlet than anything else.
"The game has been scaled down size-wise to ensure the children have a lot of time and touch with the ball," Baecker said. "The real goal of the program is to get the children some exercise, and soccer is a great sport for that."
"We want to make the game fun for the young people to play," Baecker said. "If it isn't fun for them, they will not want to play or be involved with the game again."
"The rules have also been simplified for younger players, so they can learn the rules while they are playing," Baecker said. "It is really an easy and successful way to get children their exercise time daily."
Baecker's attitude towards his sport is surprising, considering his role in the provincial body. Unlike many sports-boosters, Baecker sees the value in all sports, and just hopes that the children are offered enough of a selection of activities that they will always be interested and able to get involved in team play regardless the time of year.
"The message we want to get out is that many sports are better than just one or two," Baecker said. "Communities which are able to host a number of different sports are able to attract a large number of children into sports."
"A good athlete is someone who has a lot of skills, like balance, hand-eye coordination, and so on," Baecker said. "Focus on just one or two sports does not make a rounded athlete. Also, large numbers of children can lose their attraction to activity and sport if they are not particularly attracted to the one or two sports offered."
"We hope, through this training, and through the coaches camp we held in Carlyle, that the community will move ahead and provide soccer as another outlet for children," Baecker said. "Just so long as the children are exercising and having fun, things are good for those kids and their futures."
For more information about the soccer league, activities, or how you can get involved with the Moose Mountain Soccer Association, please contact Sheila Menard at 453-6192.