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Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Ross’s Ramblings: Soccer, hockey, tennis, whatever – our kids need to play more
One evening earlier this fall, after tennis club members had long gone home, four enthusiastic locals enjoyed a foggy evening of tennis under the lights in Memorial Park. From left, Scott Moore, Lindsay Tessis, Kanny Gordon and Cu Van Ha. Ross Robinson

There are just under 3 million citizens in Qatar. Some 74 per cent are male. Go figger.

The FIFA World Cup is being staged in this sovereign and independent state in the Middle East.

It is a semi-constitutional monarchy and is allowing World Cup soccer fans to enjoy non-alcoholic Bud Zero beer in the stadium zone. This no-booze decision was made at the very last minute, creating what Budweiser marketers described as an “awkward” situation.

I have always been a fan of top-level sports and have paid attention to championship games around the world. Having said that, I have been flummoxed by the drama in Qatar.

To read our newspapers for the past few months, as they hyped this World Cup, I was convinced our Canadian side stood a good chance of making a respectable showing.

Alphonso Davis and his mates, guided by coach John Herdman, were ready to take on the world in Qatar. Our block with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco was well-balanced and our sports writers had me pumped. Sort of.

At the urging of several of my soccer-loving friends, I showed up for the Croatia match at one of our local sports bars. The lack of enthusiasm was overwhelming. Palpable.

Very few fans, very little noise and a sense of impending defeat. The match stumbled to an end with Croatia winning 4-1.

With the great Canadian skill of finding sunshine on a cloudy day, my pal Harry summarized, “At least we didn’t get shut out. And we scored a goal.”

Croatia has about 5 million people. Canada has over 36 million, give or take.

What has my analysis shown to be the difference? Simply put, young people in Canada “don’t play any more.”

Unless it’s an organized clinic, practice or tournament, our kids don’t just show up at a soccer field and play. Municipalities waste money creating and maintaining soccer fields, as an expected recreational activity for the young citizenry.

Indeed, as an active tennis player here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I spend dozens of hours each summer on the wonderful courts of Memorial Park.

Many times, four or five or six of our courts are all being used by aging athletes having way too much fun.

Nearby, the soccer fields sit silent, with no balls being kicked among players. No laughter. No fun.

No kids, no dads or moms. Nada. Sadly quiet, day after day.

Once a week or so, the parks and rec department shows up with landscaping machinery to groom the pitches. Every autumn, every last leaf gets raked up. Each spring, fertilizer is applied.

One or two evenings a week, a noisy crowd of athletic offshore farm workers come out to noisily play their league soccer matches.

Lots of skill, lots of fun, lots of exercise. The way it should be, eh? Does the heart good to see the activity.

So, what can we do? I remember the words of the great American hockey coach Bob Johnson, whose mantra was, “It’s a great day for hockey.”

His teams won NCAA titles, Stanley Cups and Olympic gold medals.

Back in about 1970, Coach Johnson was asked his opinion of AAA hockey, where kids get selected for elite-level travel teams and spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars travelling to games and tournaments.

His answer: No kid ever got better at hockey sitting in the back of a minivan.

Somehow, let’s get our kids playing.

Kids in Croatia and Senegal and Ecuador play, on corner lots and streets, without coaches and structure. They play, day and night. They play.

And they love it. And they are better than us.

Let’s think this through, Canada.

Before little old Finland or Sweden win another World Junior Hockey Championship.

It’s time, NOTL. Let’s play!

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