As the number of soccer participants in Calgary continues to increase, existing sport facilities are struggling to accommodate the rising demand

It is 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday and the Calgary West Soccer Centre, located on Bearspaw Dam Road in northwest Calgary, is a bustle of activity.

“It is very late – especially for high school students who have lots of studies and homework,” says Celeste Awe, whose 16-year-old daughter Olivia plays for the Calgary Blizzard Soccer Club.

Despite the late hour, soccer players both young and old fill up each of the four fields while even more jog through the hallways, getting ready for their chance to hit the artificial turf.

Mike Kramer, father of 16-year-old Blizzard player Nicole, says that during the regular season it is normal for them to have games starting at 9 p.m. and going until 10 p.m.

“On those nights, after [the] coach was done talking, we’d get home around 10:45,” Kramer says. Kramer also says that the team practices two times per week with an additional technical session and one game. Technical sessions are held once a week to help the players hone specific skills such as footwork, passing and shooting.

Kramer says that his daughter, as a Grade 10 student, has a lot of homework to do as well and therefore has to balance school and her soccer commitments.Daryl Leinweber, the executive director of the Calgary Minor Soccer Association, says that the rising number of soccer participants in Calgary is putting a strain on the city’s existing sports facilities.

Photo courtesy of Leslie Rowett

“She comes home after school and hits the books,” he says. “Mostly, she handles it quite well but it would be great to have a 7 p.m. game.”

In sports facilities throughout the city, the earlier time slots are mainly reserved for the younger teams, leaving very late times and limited choices for the adult leagues.

Ian Curle sits on the bleachers and watches his team play. Curle is a part of the Over 45 league and is currently sitting out because of injuries. Having played soccer for most of his life, Curle is no stranger to the adverse time slots that soccer teams often have to deal with.

“The earlier times tend to be for the kids teams, which is fair enough,” he says. “Our games tend to be 8:15 p.m. and onwards. Some of them don’t start until 11 p.m. so they are quite late.”

On nights when the team plays until midnight, Curle says that he does not leave the soccer centre until about 12:45 a.m. As he has to get up for work at six every morning, that makes for a pretty short sleep.

“I’m usually pretty tired the following night,” he says.

According to Daryl Leinweber, the executive director of the Calgary Minor Soccer Association (CMSA), the late times that Calgary soccer teams face are mainly due to the lack of quality field space. Leinweber explains that the soccer association has had to make many sacrifices in order to accommodate the rising number of participants.

Not only has the number of games that each team plays dropped from 20 to 14 for Tier 1 players, the game has been changed to futsal during the indoor seasons.

Unlike typical indoor soccer, futsal is played on a smaller field with no boards around the edges. Though many aspects of the game are similar, players who have played arena soccer previously can feel restricted in the limited space. However, this change does allow the CMSA to utilize gymnasiums throughout the city for soccer practices.

Though this increases the number of usable facilities in the city, Leinweber says that using gymnasiums is far from ideal.

“There are a lot of facilities to be able to play soccer in but it goes back to what type of soccer you are going to play,” he says. “They play arena soccer but they don’t practice on an arena field with a regular ball. They practice in a small gymnasium with a felt ball. They’re not playing the same game.”

“We need to support them in finding ways to get facilities built in a way that actually makes sense with the demand that is coming from the community.”

Tim Bjornson, executive director of Sport Calgary Kramer says that the smaller space impacts the effectiveness of practices and the performance of the players.

“Not having the same space changes the dynamics of how the practice goes,” he says. “If they got to play on a real pitch size, they could actually position and feel better about where they are and where the other players are during the drills.”

The CMSA is slowly starting to reintroduce team practices onto arena fields but Leinweber says that this results in later times for adult teams.

According to Leinweber, there are just not enough quality facilities in Calgary to support the high sport demand. Soccer is just one sport with a need for facilities however. Football, lacrosse and ultimate frisbee, among others, require the use of these spaces as well.

Tim Bjornson, the executive director of Sport Calgary says that sport is just a mirror of the overall growth issues that the city is already experiencing.

“The infrastructure we have in Calgary is always behind because we keep getting more and more people coming,” he says. “It’s no different for sports facilities than it is for any other type of infrastructure that we have in the city because it’s the same context.”

In May 2008, The Calgary Sport Council along with the city of Calgary put together a 10 year strategic plan for Sport Facility Development and Enhancement. This plan establishes priorities for the development of new sports facilities and identifies the issues surrounding sport in Calgary.

The Calgary West Soccer Centre, located on Bearspaw Dam Road in northwest Calgary, features three regulation-sized, boarded fields and one artificial turf field.

Photo by Jolene RudisuelaBjornson says that some of the goals set out by the plan are no longer relevant due to a change in demand. He also says that money is proving to be a big roadblock in the way of the plan’s completion. Sport organizations are often challenged to raise enough funds to both stay in operation and support facility development.

“We need to support them in finding ways to get facilities built in a way that actually makes sense with the demand that is coming from the community,” Bjornson says.

Leinweber says that he would like to see more emphasis put on the need for soccer facilities by the city. He says that he does not understand why hockey rinks are continuously being built in Calgary when the need is not as high.

“I think it’s great that we’re able to build hockey rinks but I think we also need to build other facilities in the city,” he says.

Currently, the CMSA is working with the City of Calgary to potentially build a full-sized, covered soccer field in Rocky Ridge.

“We’re working,” says Leinweber. “Are we behind? Absolutely. We’ve been behind for 20 years and I don’t think things will catch up for a while.”

jrudisuela@cjournal.ca