South Coast soccer players face shortage of field space

While many youth soccer teams in Metro Vancouver struggle to find fields, one club on the North Shore has built themselves a dry, warm place to practice, according to the CBC's Jennifer Chen.

The North Shore Girls Soccer Club has built its own dedicated indoor space and it's seeing success

Girls from the North Shore Girls Soccer Club practice in The Bubble

While many youth soccer teams in Metro Vancouver struggle to find fields, one club on the North Shore has built themselves a dry, warm place to practice, according to the CBC's Jennifer Chen.

Soccer players need space to develop, play and practice. In some communities, field space is at a premium and with so many teams and other sports competing for time on Lower Mainland fields, it can be a struggle.

At the Abbotsford Soccer Club, technical director Ian Knight says they are several fields short in the city, where they are also competing for space with baseball and field hockey teams. 

Steve Lowry, head coach for Royal City Youth Soccer in New Westminster, says it's often a juggling act, and next year their spring and summer programs could be affected. 

"In terms of grass fields we do quite well. Definitely when we find out that they're going to be closing one of our turf fields next year which leaves us with one....We're losing what we call our Super 8 field...We hope to have an alternate but yeah, we could be in a field crunch next year."

He says some of the fields are being used by baseball and lacrosse all summer. 

In Vancouver, the president of the Vancouver Metro Soccer League says it's quite a serious problem getting time to practice. Ruben Tremarco says there aren't enough fields that are properly equipped with synthetic grass, light and changing rooms that can be used until late at night.

Facility in North Vancouver helps attract and retain players

Other clubs are not facing problems getting time on the fields, but they want to find ways to better attract and retain young players. And coaches say those players are less eager to stick with the game when they're outside on flooded grass or gravel fields in the middle of winter, battling rainy and cold weather. 

The North Shore Soccer Girls Club is seeing a lot of success from its purpose-built Bubble facility. (Jennifer Chen)

To get around the field crunch, clubs use indoor gyms for practices and clubs like New Westminster are in talks with the city to try and eke out more field time. 

While few clubs have a place they can call home, one Metro Vancouver soccer club has its own purpose-built facility, called The Bubble. 

The North Shore Girls Soccer Club built the facility two and a half years ago with the North Vancouver School District. It's a covered, air-supported indoor space tucked in behind the track at Windsor Secondary School, about 80 yards long and 40 yards wide, with three pods. 

Alistair Browne, head coach of the club, says up to 75 girls can practise on the artificial turf at once. The best thing is, it's air-conditioned and heated so players never have to deal with the nasty elements. 

For the managers of the club, field access wasn't the main issue. They were more concerned about giving their players the best conditions to learn.

"I have designed specific drills to be inside the pod. So we want to get more touches on the ball," Browne says. 

The cost of building the facility came to about $1.5 million, but Dan Wood, operations manager for The Bubble, says they have already come a long way in paying off their mortgage, by renting out the space when the club isn't using it. 

Indoor facility provides better skills training

Alistair Browne and club president Tony Bacchus are excited about the potential for growth, especially in the academy program for five- to seven-year-olds. Bacchus says the club is seeing more retention through the winter months, and he says The Bubble is in part responsible for the program's success. 

Browne says this is the girls' home.

"It literally provides training all year round...especially with the bad weather. The North Shore has a lot of rain, a lot of games cancelled. This keeps them training and playing. It's excellent." 

The players, such as 15-year-old Riley Balkwill, say they've been able to improve their skills in The Bubble, and it's a lot more fun than playing on water-logged fields. 

"The commitment wasn't as strong when it was outdoors without The Bubble, because you wouldn't want to get wet and cold and it was always dark and so I weren't as serious about it when you didn't have a place to play," says Balkwill

"There's a real sense of community. As soon as you walk into The Bubble you know someone." 

Kristen Black, 12, says, "It's smaller groups. You get one-on-one training with the coaches. You can focus more."

The North Shore Girls Soccer Club has big ambitions for The Bubble. Browne says they started the academy program with less than 100 girls, and now they've reached 400.

"I won't be happy until we've reached 500," he says.