As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, I launched a company called TOPP Soccer that held our first event this past weekend, a College ID Clinic in Connecticut where the players played in front of 18 NCAA D1/2/3 schools and attended educational seminars over the course of 2 days.
Part of that group of players was 20 girls from Newfoundland, and if you can believe it, it was the first time in the history of Newfoundland that a group of girls had gone to any kind of showcase or college recruiting event. They toured and met the coaches and players of D1 schools Yale, Quinnipiac, CCSU and D2 Southern CT State.
Most impressively, on the last day of their trip, their legs shot from playing non stop over 3 days, they played the 2nd ranked U18 team from Connecticut, filled with players going D1 who were fresh having played no games that weekend. Despite having NO U18 players the Newfies only lost 2-1, the majority of the girls U16 and U17 players, and even some U15 players going the full 90.
These girls were impressive on and off the field despite being part of the statistic of tens of thousands of players that are overlooked in Canada every year, receiving minuscule high level opportunities, due solely to the geography of where they were born.
Their coach Nicole is in her early 30’s and from the first second I met her, I was so incredibly inspired. Both at her passion to create opportunities for kids, but also for her courage in rocking the boat if it meant positive change that was in the player’s best interest.
She is so pure in her intention to give the girls in Newfoundland opportunities that she didn’t get as a youth player, and we spent many nights when I was in Newfoundland last summer for a clinic talking deep into the night about what could be done to make things better for the kids, one of which included organizing this trip.
After the clinic this past weekend, Nicole forwarded me a message that one of her players wrote her on the train back to the airport in New York at the end of the trip, that she said, despite not being a crier, had her in tears.
In this letter I believe what her player wrote encapsulates the feelings and experiences of so many teenagers in Canada, that have so much to give and are not given the platform or opportunity to reach their potential. Who are just asking for the chance to reach their potential. It has also reminded me the power that all of us have within that system to do what we can to afford players opportunities and instead of focusing on what frustrates us, do what we can to affect positive change.
I’ll let young Newfoundlander Kelsea (one of the most articulate 16 year olds I have ever come across), take it away from here with the message she posted on her social media that she sent to Nicole (with Kelsea’s permission to share it on my blog)….
To be quite honest, I didn’t really know what to expect coming up here to Connecticut. Being from such a small, and often forgotten part of Canada in regards to soccer, we really didn’t know how we would match up to the other players from the States. It’s hard to get competitive games regularly from where we are from, as well as opportunities to help us reach the next level.
But thanks to Nicole, and also Ciara, this is all starting to change.
There is not one glimpse of exaggeration in what I say when I say that Nicole was the first coach to truly believe in me and see my potential. I was a bench warmer for many years, never getting to see the field much, but Nicole never lost confidence in me. She believed in me even when I didn’t. In fact, she was the one to truly show me my potential and what I needed to do to achieve it. But again, I am not then only one who could relate to this. This past weekend only further proves this point.
This weekend was the most incredible experience of my entire life, and it’s all thanks to Nicole and her passion for the game and her players. She is the first coach that I have come across that was so determined to help her players achieve their goals, not only on the club level, but also long term. She brought us all here because she wants us to succeed. She wants us to be able to have the opportunities she, and many other women in Newfoundland, never had. We are the first group of Newfoundland women (girls) to attend a recruitment camp, and I couldn’t be more proud to represent my province as well as my country.
I honestly cannot put into words the emotions I was feeling those few days. It was honestly such a surreal experience, that even as I write this, I still cannot believe I was a part of such an amazing event.
Before each time I stepped out onto the pitch, all I thought to myself was how I was going to prove to these scouts and coaches that Newfoundland can play competitive soccer, that we can be aggressive, but most importantly, I wanted to show my passion for the sport.
I wanted to contradict so many negative stereotypes and labels that have been paired with soccer in Newfoundland and make them realize how inaccurate they truly are. I wanted to set a pathway for the generations of women’s soccer in our province. I wanted to make sure that they would be able to play college soccer and to be able to have the opportunities that are so foreign and many amazing players never had.
Upon stepping on the field, soccer was the only thing on my mind. There was no room for anything else. Yet, there was one thing many people spoke of and that was the heat. If you know anything about Newfoundland weather, you’d know that we don’t see the sun very often, and even when we do, there is usually wind to accompany with it. So coming up here to Connecticut and playing in 20+ weather was pretty out of the norm for us.
But to be quite honest, I hardly noticed it on the field. It could have been hailing, snowing, raining or even 100km/h winds and I wouldn’t have noticed it all that much. I came here to play soccer and show people what I could do, and that’s all I wanted to do. So even though I may have thought before hand that the heat would cause a few minor problems, I was so motivated and excited to play, that it was the last thing on my mind. As I think about those few days now, I realize that I was a part of something so much more than simply my potential college soccer opportunities, or those of my teammates.
I was a part of a new movement for soccer in my province.
This trip has now opened so many doors and opportunities, I cannot wait to see what happens next.
So thank you Ciara, Nicole, Maria and all the scouts and people who put in so much time to make this trip happen. You may not realize it, but this is something none of us will ever forget and we are truly grateful to have been given this opportunity.