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Getting a little giddy for the start of another summer of soccer

Giuseppe Politi is more excited than most at the sight of the snow rapidly receding from the turf of the James Jerome Sports Complex.

The Club Head Coach for the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) is only weeks away from taking his game to the great outdoors, as a 16-week developmental program for youngsters from four to 12 kicks off what promises to be another busy summer of soccer locally.

“This is the first year we have gone down to the Active Start level of the LTPD (Long Term Player Development model), the really young kids,” he said. “It's just once a week for them, with activities only, no formal games. Since our inception in 2010, we have grown every year.”

“I think there is an appetite, a demand for soccer here.”

Full disclosure: Politi might not be the most unbiased observer of the beautiful game.

The man lives and breathes soccer. He also seemed like an outstanding starting point to kick off another set of weekly columns devoted to the sport, providing an insightful overview across much of the spectrum of the game locally.

Experiencing it as an elite player, a referee, an administrator, and easily the most accredited coach in Sudbury soccer history, helps Politi to provide a very knowledgeable perspective. And when not actively involved with the game, talking soccer is one of his favourite pastimes.

Quickly, we morphed over to the more competitive component of the sport, as he outlined the GSSC lineup for 2019:

Boys – U13 – HDSL – coach Evan Phillips
Boys – U14 – HDSL – coach Nick Walker
Boys – U15 – tournament team - coaches Jeff McNeil and Joe Snofl
Boys – U16 – HDSL – coach Stephane Legrand
Boys – U21 – OSL – coach John Hick

Girls – U14 – HDSL – coach Stephane Legrand
Girls – U16 – CSL – coaches Chris and Matt Binks
Girls – U21 – OWSL – coach Mike Spourdalakis

HDSL (Huronia District Soccer League); OSL (Ontario Soccer League); CSL (Central Soccer League); OWSL (Ontario Women's Soccer League)

Despite the incredible success that local product Jenna Hellstrom has enjoyed, cracking the national women's team roster this past year, there still exists a Grand Canyon sized gap between the experience of young soccer athletes in the GTA and many other parts of the province, compared to those emanating from Sudbury or the balance of northern Ontario.

“There's a lot of variable to trying to close that gap,” said Politi. “We are implementing an extra developmental team at U8, U10 and U12, with players that are identified for some out of town competition.. This has some appeal to some of our more developed players.”

“And there is a constant investment, within the GSSC, into coach education. The final variable, which is outside of the club's hands, is a year-round facility. That is the single most important variable to closing the gap between our kids and Ottawa kids, our kids and Toronto kids.”

“We need a (year-round) facility, not just for the development of the players, but to engage kids, to give them a reason to choose soccer over other alternatives,” Politi added. “Soccer, right now, is the second choice. It's the choice to keep them fit for their primary sport.” In spite of this, Politi remains encouraged. The influx of young coaches holds incredible potential.

“Some of those coaches that are getting involved played post-secondary, whether at Cambrian or Laurentian. They have played for GSSC at some point in their career. They are young and willing to learn. They believe in taking the courses.”

“Coach education transformed me. I am not the same coach I was at 20 years old.”

Beyond that, Politi speaks with pride of the Silver Excellence Award the GSSC recently obtained from the Ontario Soccer, a step up from the Bronze Award the club enjoyed in 2017. It's a sentiment that is shared by club president Joe Snofl, just entering his second term in the position.

“I think we're doing it right, and it's getting noticed,” said the full-time educator and former technical director of the club. “When you make that commitment to reach these standards, you are pushing your organization to make sure that it's done. That's a lot of pressure on volunteers.”

“But it means more stability in the organization. With that stability, we can do more. We're trying to engage more in the community with players who cannot afford soccer. We have a great board of volunteers, many of whom do not have kids who play in the club. We're building a GSSC family. We're not perfect, but we are striving to always do better.”

And like so many others involved in the game, Snofl is getting just a tad antsy, a little bit giddy, at this time of year. “I am excited to see the young kids outside,” he said. “It will be nice to see the future of soccer starting out.”

Though the future of soccer is still to be played out with the Laurentian Voyageurs women's varsity team, they will enjoy at least one more year with a strong tie to the past. The university confirmed on Thursday that Rob Gallo, the only coach the program has ever known, will remain involved with the team in an advisory role, “as we transition into the next era of women's soccer at Laurentian”, according to a media release.

Gallo had indicated his intentions to step aside from the coaching ranks last fall, but with no replacement coach in place yet and the start of training camp just over three months away, there is a gap to be bridged. “With Rob taking on this role, it eases the pressure greatly,” noted Voyageurs Athletic Director Peter Hellstrom.

“We are now in a position where we have a leader for the program who will tackle recruiting and organize the season while we navigate through the budget process.”

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