By Thomas Feth
During Footie Camp 2017, ambassadors from You Can Play, an organization dedicated to "ensuring safety and inclusion for all those who participate in sports", will be visiting each week to discuss inclusivity and respect for others with the players. As part of their mission, You Can Play believes that sports should focus on "a player's skills, work ethic, and competitive spirit," not their identity.
Players are visited by Kevin, a Western Regional Board Member for You Can Play, and Cheryl, the Co-Chair of the Western Regional Board and Postdoctoral Researcher from the University of Alberta. Kevin and Cheryl talked to the players about soccer, having fun, teamwork, cooperation, being Canadian, and take on themes of respecting difference, embracing equality, and celebrating diversity. Afterwards, I chatted with Kevin about his talk with the players.
"We want everyone to recognize that equality is important. It's important to celebrate our diversity. There's a handful of kids here at camp who weren't born in Canada, and they likely understand the feeling of alienation. Sometimes they may feel left out, and it's important to remember that sports can be an escape."
This likely rings true for many of the kids coming to camp this summer, especially as refugee and immigrant children will make up a significant portion of the players.
"The last thing we want is for kids to be someplace where people are still alienating them just because they're seen as different. It doesn't matter where you came from, who you are, or what you do. We're all one in the same. We're all here in this country together and we're all here to have fun and play the game."
Kevin also spoke more specifically about You Can Play, and what the organization strives to achieve with regard to sports.
"What You Can Play does is that we partner with professional sports organizations to spread the message that if you can play, you can play. It's a simple message, but it's important to make sure that we are all treated equally. It doesn't matter if you are tall or short, or have two moms or two dads, we're all one in the same and if you want to play, you can play. That's the message we want to hammer home."
Kevin also stressed how important it is for young kids to be able to have access to new experiences and opportunities to grow like those offered by Footie Camp.
"Free Footie is an unbelievable organization. I wish Footie Camp was around when I was a kid, not only from a soccer perspective, but also because I wish I had learned how to be comfortable with being different. These kids are getting an awesome education both in soccer terms, and in being able to leave as a better person."
Footie Camp is looking forward to more visits from You Can Play this summer, and beyond.