By Mark Cardwell
JON TOWNS WAS 3 when he and his dad,
James, started kicking a soccer ball around
the backyard of their family home in
Burlington, Ontario. “I had no choice,” says
Towns, who went on to play both soccer and
hockey at the recreational and elite levels. “My
dad grew up in Scotland and played the game.
But I learned to love it as much as he did.”
“Soccer has always been a big part of my
life,” says Towns, an RBC employee who still
plays and coaches his daughters’ teams.
“Many of my best friends came from soccer,
[and] I travelled a lot with my parents and sis-
ters. Now it’s helping me make memories with
my own family.”
According to several sources, soccer is
the most popular team sport in every region
of the country, with more than 750,000 players under 17, nearly half of them girls. The
beautiful game is becoming as Canadian as
maple syrup, Tim Hortons and ice hockey.
Canadian soccer experts say there are
three main drivers behind that growth: immigration from countries where soccer is king;
the popularity of Canada’s professional and
national teams (particularly the women’s);
and the relatively low cost of participation.
“The only equipment you need is shoes
and shin pads,” says Bobby Lennox, manager
of player development for the Ontario Soccer
Association, Canada’s largest provincial sports
organization, with 21 districts and 7,000
teams of all stripes and age groups.
Ages and categories
According to Lennox, a Costco member
in Pickering, Ontario, soccer in Canada
begins at the district club level. “Registration
costs between $150 and $200 for a season,
depending on the player’s age and competi-
tive level,” he says. “Clubs supply shirts, shorts
Players ages 4 to 12 are assigned to either
recreational or development league teams
that play according to age- and ability-specific
rules and conditions.;
“The youngest kids play three versus
three, using a size 3 ball on small fields,” notes
Lennox. “The field and number of players
grow with them [up to regular 11 versus 11,
and a size 5 ball], along with tactical and
At 13, players join teams in regular house
leagues, competitive district leagues or elite
clubs for gifted players that can lead to pro-
vincial and even national team programs.
Regardless of category, Lennox says the
sport offers all players the same physical,
social and psychological benefits.
“Soccer is essentially a non-stop cardio-
The Costco Connection
Soccer balls (#1404064) and soccer cleats
(#404063) are available in most locations.
Shin guards (#1404065) will also be in limited locations. Adjustable and portable nets
and goals are available on Costco.ca.
© DOUBLEPHOTO STUDIO / SHUTTERSTOCK
WHEN HE WAS a kid, Jon Towns said
the big thing for soccer players was to
head a ball. “Everybody wanted to do
it,” he recalls. “But sometimes you’d
get your bell rung doing it, and we’d
just keep playing.”
But times have changed. Aware-
ness about concussions has led to a
ban on heading on U13 teams and
younger. The practice is also discour-
aged among older age groups.
“It’s a smart move,” says Towns,
who is trained in concussion protocol
that ensures players who have hit
their heads on balls, other players or
the ground meet the concussion protocol before returning to play.
Go to canadasoccer.com to find
out about soccer’s background and
history, coaching, national team programs, starting kits, soccer fundamentals and safety.—MC
Heads, you lose
vascular activity that builds stamina,” says the
58-year-old, a former semi-pro who still
plays in men’s leagues. “Like all team sports, it
also teaches players to interact and commu-
nicate, control their emotions and have fun
while developing skills and confidence.”
Rajan’s father, Bob, who once played in
Vancouver’s top men’s league and now
coaches his sons, lauds the many good things
that soccer has done for his family. “Our lives
revolve around the sport,” says Mann, a
Costco member. “As a parent, you can discon-
nect from the daily grind and focus on the
game. And there are worse things in life than
playing or watching your kids play outside on
a sunny day, even a rainy day.
“Win, lose or draw, you always have a
good time in the company of friends.” C
Mark Cardwell is a freelance journalist and
writer in the Quebec City area.