Braving the heat and relentless sun on Thursday, 190 of Calgary’s up and coming young female soccer players took to SAIT’s Cohos Common soccer field to get coaching by Olympian Stephanie Labbé.
Labbé, who is currently on her Champions Tour after retiring from the sport earlier this year, ran the girls aged 8-17 through a variety of drills.
The afternoon of sport ended with the opportunity for the players to take part in an Olympics rule shootout against the Tokyo 2020 gold medal winning goaltender, followed by autographs and a motivational speech.
“It’s amazing and for me to be able to do it here in my home province—the province where I grew up and Calgary, my new home, new resident of the city—to be here giving back to the community that has given me so much is incredible,” said Labbé.
She said that she was hoping to impart a passion for the sport, along with the confidence to stand up within the players.
“There’s always going to be people that tell you you’re not good enough, to tell you won’t make it. I’ve had people tell me that my entire career, but believing in myself has got me to some incredible places.”
The tour stop was held by the Calgary Minor Soccer Association, as part of their EmpowerHER program that aims to attract more women to soccer, and to keep them playing.
“We’re trying to combat rapid dropout throughout sport and throughout soccer,” CMSA technical leader Jordan Stewart.
“Through our EmpowerHER initiative, and partnered with Calgary Blizzard here today, we’re really excited to put on this event to motivate and inspire the next generation of female footballers in Calgary.”
World class coach for the game, and for life
Stewart said that he hoped the girls would really take something from the experience of being coached by a world class athlete.
“We have a genuine world class player and world class person in front of them to help motivate them and to answer some of their questions, and really connect with them and hopefully inspire them on their journey whether it’s through the game or through life,” he said.
He said that the success of the Canadian Women’s Olympic team massively increased interest in women’s soccer, from the grassroots level to the professional leagues. Stewart said that he hoped some of that passion remained with the players long after they left the field.
“We hope to just make sure that they’re enjoying the game, that we bring the fun back to the game, and that their sporting experience is a positive one,” he said.
“So whether they end up in a women’s national team, or they end up playing in a women’s local league, or they end up in a leadership position in their organization, I want to make sure that better people come out of the organization afterward, than how they came in.”
Part of that, said Stewart, was helping to instill values of hard work and community building as part of the CMSA mission.
Labbé said that she really related to the players who participated in Thursday’s event.
“I was once young at this age, and just having fun kicking the ball around with a smile on my face, not really knowing what future was ahead of me,” she said.
“But I had the same passion and enjoyment for the game as they do, so when I see them enjoying it running around, a smile on their faces, I can totally see myself there.”
Next steps for Labbé
Labbé said that she intends to remain an active part of the sport, although likely not in an on-field coaching position.
“I don’t think on-field coaching is something that I will do long term, but definitely wanting to stay involved in the game and stay involved in ways where I can continue to inspire and empower young women to stay in the game to enjoy the game to believe them in themselves,” she said.
She also weighed in on the continuing contract disputes with Canada Soccer. Players are pushing for a bigger share of revenue from events and greater transparency in the sport.
“I think it’s important moving forward that we continue to fight for the equity that this team deserves, and that we deserve across the world,” she said.
“It’s not just something that this team has earned the right to do: It’s a basic human right to have equality in this country, and across the globe, and I think it’s time for some trans transparency to be coming out.”