Play. Inspire. Unite.
Everyone is familiar with the old adage of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, and this inspiring resilience has been on display in abundance across all levels of soccer in Ontario during these past few weeks.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have temporarily halted soccer for the foreseeable future that has not stopped our Districts, Clubs and Academies across the province from delivering the sport to its stakeholders, while adhering to physical distancing requirements.
From online social media skill challenges and fitness classes to technical sessions and virtual team meetings or social gatherings, Ontario Soccer members have engaged players, coaches and parents with diverse activities that have produced great results and yielded new discoveries. Below is a highlight reel of just a few of the many member organizations, which have led the way with their innovative and inspiring initiatives.
Affiliated with Toronto FC, the Academy developed a comprehensive four-pronged strategy driven by the need to continue its usual operations, but in a different way. In its solutions-based approach to the situation, it focused on engagement around the pillars of players, parents, coaches and community.
To keep players active and motivated, weekly online Zoom sessions have taken place focusing on developing the technical, physical and education aspects of their game, with such projects as developing a meal plan. The Academy has engaged parents through a weekly online Zoom meeting that has featured sessions on topics such as nutrition, as well as motivational guest speakers including Toronto FC President Bill Manning.
Coaches have been active as well, participating in education sessions, technical planning and social interactions. Through social media, the Academy has effectively engaged its community through prolific content generation across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. It publishes posts every three hours with content such as videos of inspiring quotes, interactive exercises including best player brackets, and user-generated videos submitted by players.
The Academy’s efforts on social media have been very successful paving the way for future initiatives. Videos of the motivational quotes have gone viral amassing 11,000 views and together with a dozen videos posted each day the Academy has attracted 300 new followers in just the last 1.5 weeks. As well, its Kahoot (game-based learning platform) challenges have had heavy participation drawing 300 participants. This engagement has been lauded by parents and with that the Academy aims to continue its guest speaker sessions, developing group projects for players and creating new ways to engage with their stakeholders.
With a focus on maintaining connectivity and readying for the resumption of play, the Club has developed an engagement strategy focusing on its coaches, players and parents. Coaches have participated in various activities with daily online social Zoom calls, daily check-ins with players to review technical skills and drills and weekly online guest speaker sessions that will establish a resource of great technical content for the future.
For players, the Club developed the successful #PFCChallenge on social media that tasks players with both soccer and non-soccer activities. Weekly tasks have ranged from players participating in dribbling exercises to creating signs to show support for first responders fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. This has aligned and helped reinforce the Club’s mandate to develop the person before the player.
To ensure parents are constantly engaged, the Club sends weekly messages informing them about the status of the Club and links to resources. The Club has used the communication as an opportunity to reinforce its core values and strategic direction, to help parents better relate to the Club and its operations.
The results of these efforts to date have been very positive with coaches bonding together, players and coaches engaging with each other in new, innovative ways and parents showing appreciation for being informed amid the uncertainty. To further gauge the results of their efforts, the Club will survey its players with the findings used to develop future initiatives.
The Oakville Blue Devils sprang into action with initiatives to take care of its players and parents. Over the last two weeks, the Academy has created live-at-home twice-weekly training sessions focusing on soccer-specific fitness and ball mastery skills. To ensure kids have access to high-calibre instructors and extended mentorship from males and females, both technical staff and League 1 players have led various sessions.
As well, the Academy created a video library on its website that includes 20-second skill topics designed to be performed in a confined space such as a garage, basement or driveway. Since rolling out these initiatives, the Academy has seen a surge of engagement with website traffic tripling, even drawing visitors from Quebec and British Columbia. Looking ahead, the Academy plans to introduce interactive exercises, such as quizzes that test kids’ soccer technical knowledge, and expand their training sessions to include activities for larger spaces, as kids may move outdoors to their backyards with the onset of warmer weather.
With the aim of having players return following COVID-19, the Club has actively engaged players and parents through a range of soccer and non-soccer activities:
Beyond technical skills, the Club has also organized:
The results have surpassed Club expectations with parents lauding the structured programming. Virtual training sessions, yoga sessions and fitness sessions have drawn upwards of 90, 60 and 40 kids, respectively, while the online submissions have attracted 100 submissions per week.
Most significantly, the high engagement has inspired the Club to expand its online activities in the future. Looking ahead, the Club will continue its virtual sessions and unveil a physical literacy program to engage four to six-year old kids that includes balancing, jumping and skipping activities.
Right after training halted, the Academy went into action launching three programs. Firstly, leveraging the resources of its U.S. parent company, it provided its 250 members access to the Rush Virtual Learning Centre that includes full training sessions, e-learning tools and soccer documentaries.
The Academy has also run daily challenges on Instagram for the last three weeks, such as performing the most headers in 30 seconds. Third, it sent individual training programs to members and organized Zoom calls to guide them, holding them accountable to their ongoing development. This three-pronged approach has enabled RUSH to grow its engagement on social media, which they were not active on prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
If you would like to recognize an Ontario Soccer member organization that is proactive and innovative in engaging, servicing and caring for its stakeholders during this challenging time, please contact Bjorn Osieck, Director, Business Operations. If suitable, we would be happy to share any suggestions and case studies with our membership, so we can all support and learn from each other.