Summer soccer camps remain on hold because of COVID-19

Owners still waiting to hear from public health officials on exactly how they'll be allowed to proceed.

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It began small, as most businesses do, for Grant Needham.

Four years ago, when the former Impact striker launched KISSoccer, a program designed to teach the sport’s fundamentals to individual players, seven youngsters signed up the first week. Within days, it increased to 32. Today, Needham estimates 900 players have learned the basics of the game and built a foundation from which to progress.

It only made sense for Needham, after years of traveling, to have his customers come to him. Last November, he opened his year-round soccer centre in Dorval. Four months later, the coronavirus pandemic struck, sending his livelihood into a tenuous state.

Although Needham has a part-owner with him, along with five sponsorship partners, he admitted his financial commitment is steep.

“This did not come at an opportune time,” Needham said Tuesday by phone, addressing the COVID-19 crisis. “Year 1 (of any business) is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re in the COVID year.

“We’re not going to break the bank, but we can stay on until we weather the storm, when things get back to normal,” added the 49-year-old, who made 87 appearances for the Impact between 1993-98, before completing his career playing indoors for the team over four seasons.

“It’s not easy. I don’t want to call it the new normal. I hope this is not normal. I hope this is temporary.”

While the Quebec government recently announced day camps can open on June 22, soccer camps are still waiting to hear from public health officials on exactly how they’ll be allowed to proceed. Needham said he has between 150-200 kids normally registered for his summer programs.

Danny Anderson, owner of the West Island Soccer School (WISS) and one of 11 coaches listed on its website, is in the same predicament.

“Traditionally, we used to attract huge amounts of players,” Anderson said. “Right now, we will be offering something. We just can’t confirm how it’s going to work. For sure it’s going to be a much lower ratio.

“Most people making a living in the soccer world are juggling a few projects. They’re all affected at the moment,” added Anderson, who is also the technical director for FC Trois Lacs and runs a sports excellence program out of Collège Bourget. “Everything turned pretty quick. Everyone’s a bit shocked.

“We don’t have any definitive comeback date or exact details of what we’re allowed to offer in terms of soccer programs. It’s a little bit complicated. The plan is to do something. The question is when and exactly what type of program.”

With nearly 170,000 players across the province, Soccer Québec understands the sport provides a service essential to the physical and mental health of its participants. But despite junior education minister Isabelle Charest’s announcement two weeks ago that Quebec would allow the resumption of non-contact, non-team sports, the soccer federation’s five-phase proposal, culminating in a return to games, still requires approval.

“We have a committee currently working on this file and we are also awaiting responses from the government, both on the deconfinement of soccer and on the definition of a day camp,” Michel Dugas, Soccer Québec’s media-relations manager, wrote in an email.

Needham was busy Tuesday rearranging his soccer centre for what he believes will be the eventual reopening. With 8,000 square feet of turf, his facility is designed for individual training. Social distancing won’t be a problem, nor will access, since the academy has both a front and rear exit. If eight participants per hour is the maximum the government will permit, Needham said he’s prepared to adjust.

“We’re in a hurry-up-and-wait mode … hurry to get open, but waiting for the government to say we have the green light,” Needham said. “But we’re not alone. It’s not only us that’s shut down; the world’s shut down. Everything’s shut down. People are going through the same situation. Some have it harder.

“I’m just anxious for soccer to get back in some form.”

Needham’s wife is an elementary school teacher in Vaudreuil-Dorion who continues working online and receiving her salary, so the family’s bills are being paid. Anderson, on the other hand, was able to qualify for the government’s $2,000 monthly assistance program and yet the stress and anxiety in his voice is palpable.

The WISS registration program had just begun last March when the pandemic began. Surprisingly, Anderson said, few people have asked to be reimbursed.

“We want to make sure we can still keep it high-quality soccer, but make sure it’s fun,” he said. “To look on the bright side of what we’ll be able to offer — whenever we can — it’s definitely going to focus on individual and technical development. There will be more personal attention. There’s definitely positives to having the low ratio.”