Through his year of involvement with the regional soccer program, former pro turned coach Brian Ashton constantly bemoaned the lack of continuity, seldom enjoying the opportunity to work with any one particular age group for much more than one full calendar year.
The 2001 Northern Ontario boys soccer talent pool may be the one major beneficiary of the demise of regional soccer a few years back.
“The thing that I like the most is that I've been able to work with them for more than a year,” noted Ashton, discussing his U17 Northern Soccer Academy entry into the OASL (Ontario Academy Soccer League) this summer.
“When they're training at a higher level, when they're playing a higher level of competition for more than just that year, we're sort of on an even keel with some of the teams down south now.” Bringing together a roster of young men from Sudbury, North Bay and Sault Ste Marie, Ashton has worked throughout the winter, weekly, in each of their home towns, all while mixing in three separate tournaments in Buffalo.
“What we tried to do is have a training session together, at least once, before we would go down and compete,” he explained. “The ideal situation would probably be to have a two week camp before we go away, but it's just not possible given the environment that we are in. We don't get together very often, but when we do, it just seems to click.”
With summer play allowing for at least some form of year round contact with the sport, Ashton has seen development beyond his wildest dreams. “The 2001 group were right on the cusp of that regional program, and we wanted to keep them involved,” he said. “They have done well. They've achieved more than I thought they would have, to this point, to be sure.”
More than anything else, the former member of the Toronto Lynx sees the longevity that he has provided as being critical to raising the overall standard of their play. “The bad habits that they develop when they are younger are hard to break,” he said. “We're trying to implement now, at a younger age, the good habits, make it second nature for them by the time they reach this age.”
The end product, understandably, is then one upon which he watches over with a great deal of pride. “We've built our game around not going and doing a full press in the other half, being able to sit back, absorb pressure. But when we do get the ball, don't give it away. We've got technical kids that can play and pass and move and overlap and get crosses in the box.”
“It's a more attractive brand of soccer,” Ashton continued. “I would rather lose playing that way than win playing run and kick.” And as this group looks to progress one more stage beyond their high school days come the summer of 2019, he hopes that OUA and OCAA success might follow. “I think the local post-secondary institutions are really going to benefit from these kids,” he said.
“We're hoping that they are impact players, not just bench players, at university.” The 2018 NSA U17 roster features talent from the following centers:Sudbury: Nolan Berthelette, Cameron Boland, Sebastien Bouchard, Tyler Dupont, Luca Nardi, Lucas Oliveira, Andrew Prince, Aiden Ragogna, Jacob Socransky, Adam (C.J.) Tear
Sault Ste Marie: Noah Carter, Nathan Lajunen, Saurodeep Majumdar, Jake May, Luke May, Thomas Webb
North Bay: Drenady Edwards, Neil Kovacs
The Greater Sudbury Soccer Club (GSSC) recently wrapped up their second year with an interesting program aimed at equalizing the gender talent pool in the sport, offering a free four week session for girls ages six to fourteen.
“We're involved in outdoor and indoor programming year round,” noted GSSC coach and local Technical Director Dayna Corelli. “On the boys side, we're exploding with numbers, and it's disproportionate on the girls side. We tried to break it down to determine the reasons.”
The end result was a no-cost setting, while creating a welcoming atmosphere with female coaches pulled almost entirely from either the Cambrian Golden Shield or GSSC Open Women's rosters. “We figured the female coaches would make a difference in the coaching environment that we have,” said Corelli.
“It helps the players identify with the coach. Sometimes, working with younger players, it's as much about the psychological, emotional, social standpoint. That's where the gender comes in.” In terms of the sport itself, Corelli admits that the payoff for this experiment could well be shared throughout the entire sporting community.
“From a technical (soccer) standpoint, you're getting the same coaching, it's just the delivery and the atmosphere that could be different,” she noted. “On a bigger picture, it's really about getting more girls active and feeling comfortable in a sporting environment.”
“For some, this was their first experience in a sport. If that opens a doorway, even if it's not in soccer, that's ok. For a lot of players, it was just about breaking down the barrier of actually entering a practice, or some sort of structured session. It was very new, or different than any other experience they had.”*************************************************
And finally, speaking of “different”, Corelli will tackle a slightly amended coaching challenge this summer, as her former U21 team has now moved up to the Provincial Central Elite division of the OWSL.
“It was very easy to move,” she confessed. “We just never really thought about it, because we've always traditionally been a youth club. This opened us up to some players that we really hadn't thought of before. We have players that are 23, 24, still in their prime and looking for a place to play. I could be on the roster,” she added with a laugh.
The GSSC Impact Open Women's team will kickoff their season on the weekend of May 26th and 27th.