Futsal Canada Soccer
Canada Soccer

Development Week: Does climate limit soccer progress in Canada?

This year, Vancouver Whitecaps FC celebrate 10 years of the Residency program, which began in 2007. In conjunction with the announcements of new players entering the program this year, whitecapsfc.com are diving deeper into the state of development in Canada as part of Development Week.

Is Canada’s climate a disadvantage? Or is it a positive?

On the one hand, you can point to our country hosting big international matches in less than rosy weather as an advantage. Look no further than the September 1985 match that qualified Canada for our lone appearance in a men’s World Cup, beating Honduras 2-1 at cold little King George V Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador.

On the other hand, Canada’s sometimes frigid, rainy, and snowy conditions make it difficult to foster a soccer culture among our youth.

“In some parts of the country you can’t play soccer outside for more than two months of the year,” notes Jason de Vos, Canada Soccer director of development. “And even during those months in those areas – and I’ll use Yellowknife as an example – there aren’t an abundance of outdoor facilities, because of the climate.”

So how then, are we expected to develop talented soccer players when we can’t have them training and learning on a full-sized pitch for months on end?

Well, perhaps we don’t need to. Perhaps being pushed indoors can actually be a good thing?

“Absolutely,” opines de Vos. “I’m a big fan of futsal as a development tool. It’s something that Canada Soccer certainly endorses and promotes.”

Futsal, unlike traditional soccer, is played on a hard court with five players on each team. The ball is smaller, and the dimensions are also much tighter (42-46 yards long by 22-27 yards wide) compared to a full-size soccer pitch (BC Place is 117 yards long by 75 yards wide). These smaller spaces foster better technical skills, and an emphasis on creativity.

“If you look around the world at the richest countries in terms of player development, futsal is a big component of their system,” adds de Vos. “Free play and street soccer environments are wide spread. We don’t have that in our culture so much. We don’t have kids out playing in the middle of the street, kicking a ball around as much as we’d maybe like to have.

“But what we do have is an abundance of school gymnasiums that we can use for futsal, where we can get kids playing regardless of the weather outside. The more touches that young players can get on the ball through their formative years, and the more creativity that they develop, it replicates that street soccer feel.”

In addition to Futsal and the many gyms available, many provinces now also have high quality indoor turf facilities that can be used year round, such as the BMO Centre in London, Ontario, and the BMO Soccer Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

So while many point to Vancouver’s usual milder climate as more ideal for year-round soccer, there are certainly pros to the reverse.

“Here on the west coast I think it’s both a blessing and a curse that we’re outdoors 12 months of the year,” noted Craig Dalrymple, Whitecaps FC technical director. “From November until April we’re in sideways rain and cold conditions, whereas our counterparts in Alberta, and Manitoba, and other provinces are in a nice warm indoor facility. There is a luxury with that.”

That said, if you ask technical directors in those provinces, the challenge lies more in getting enough time to develop players to fit the challenges of the full-size outdoor game, and using that larger space to learn the finer tactical nuances and technical differences.

It seems no matter what way you slice it, climate plays a factor. However, it seems now more than ever that how we use these factors will help shape the future of the sport in Canada.

“When you look at the challenges we have, there’s geography, there’s climate, there’s infrastructure,” summed up de Vos. “But there’s a lot of resources here that we do have, that we need to take a better look at and better advantage of.”

And for him, the more that kids are playing the game – indoors or outdoors – and the more they love the sport, the more skillful they will become and the better off we will be for it.

“Ultimately it’s about having that experience of enjoyment, the thrill of scoring a goal and winning a game, and having that rush of adrenaline that comes along with that.”