By Kathy McGrath
A third of girls will leave a sport because they feel unwelcome or perceive that they don’t belong, according to a 2022 survey by the Canadian Women & Sport (CWS). The West Rouge Soccer Club is committed to changing that with their girls-only summer camp, GOing Places.
“I want to provide girls with a positive experience to lay the foundation for them to want to stay active, whether in soccer or another sport,” said program director Anika Taylor. Raised in West Hill, Taylor has been involved with the WRSC as a player and coach for many years and also sits on their board.
She has a Bachelor of Kinesiology and holds a Master of Science specializing in safe sport and athlete safeguarding. Safeguarding involves making sports feel safer for everyone by prioritizing athletes’ health and wellbeing through inclusion, accessibility and human rights.
“Physical activity is so important, in and of itself, in terms of physical health, mental health and positive psychosocial development,” said Taylor. “When sport is intentionally designed with girls’ needs, interests and experiences in mind, they can also achieve the soft skills that come with sport like leadership, teamwork and communications skills.”
While soccer has fewer financial barriers than sports like golf or hockey, which require lots of equipment, Taylor cautioned that providing field time and a ball is not enough.
“Research tells us girls really need to connect to compete,” she explained. “They have to feel like they have friends around them and that they like being there.”
With that in mind, Taylor developed the GOing Places program last year. After obtaining a grant for the one-week camp, she and her sister, Mikaela, sent emails and handed out flyers at local soccer fields. “We had about 20 registrants for 30 spots,” she recalled. “That wasn’t bad considering no more than 20 girls were signed up for three weeks of co-ed camps the previous year.”
Before the camp began, registrants were surveyed about what they were looking for and how the coaches could address gaps in the program. “We wanted to engage the community and find out what their interests were,” said Taylor. The program reflected these requests and also incorporated best practices from CWS, Nike Made To Play and other sports organizations.
GOing Places campers spent about an hour a day learning soccer skills and the rules of the game. Then they did arts and crafts, cooperative games, team building activities and had time for unstructured play.
“We also did a few unique activities like Warm Fuzzies, which allowed the girls to write notes to each other and the coaches. This was a big part of creating a culture of kindness in the program,” said Taylor.
The camp received a lot of positive feedback. “On the first day I had girls asking, ‘Hey, are you going to do this again?’” she said. Parents were equally enthusiastic, praising the organization and the creativity of the program. One parent said her daughter gave her a birthday card that read, “Thanks for signing me up for soccer camp.”
The camp runs for one week from July 10-14 at Adams Park. The half-day camp, for ages four to six, runs from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. The full-day camp, for ages seven to 12, runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Spots are now limited. For further information, contact westrougesoccer.ca.