Nova Scotia

'Pay-what-you-can' soccer camps aim to bring sport to all kids

A "pay what you can" soccer camp in Cole Harbour is giving children of all skill levels a chance to fall in love with a sport that, for some families, is simply out of the budget.

After being diagnosed with Crohn's disease and depression, Mitch Doell changed the focus of his soccer camps

Mitch Doell is president of Mitch's Soccer 2.0. (Erin MacInnis/CBC)

A "pay what you can" soccer camp is giving children of all skill levels a chance to fall in love with a sport that, for some families, is simply out of the budget.

Besides soccer skills, the camp promotes mental and gut health, which are causes dear to founder Mitch Doell's heart. Last year, the Cole Harbour, N.S., entrepreneur was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and depression.

"My anxiety and depression were so severe last year that I didn't even want to show up to my own camps," he told CBC's Information Morning.

"When I showed up to the field, it felt natural again. It was really the first step to beating my depression, so the community means everything to me."

The original iteration of the camp was known as Mitch's Soccer. This year, he's back with a new name, Mitch's Soccer 2.0, and a new structure. It's now a not-for-profit camp with the motto, "Soccer for everyone and help for those in need."

While the camps have a suggested registration fee, families can choose how much they pay.

Doell says his camps focus on promoting mental and gut health through inclusion and education about healthy eating. (Erin MacInnis/CBC)

"Families who don't have a lot pay whatever they can, and families who have a little bit more either pay the full amount, or a little bit more," said Doell.

The camps are open to kids six to 13, and take place in Cole Harbour.

He said many parents have been surprised by the pay system.

"They had to see it to believe it on the first day," said Doell.

'A real sense of community'

He said his camps focus on anti-bullying and mental wellness through inclusion and positive reinforcement. Everyone, regardless of skill, participates in the same drills.

"If no one's excluded and everyone feels like a part of something, it's good for your mental health," said Doell. "We have a real sense of community and togetherness here."

The camps also offer education on healthy eating, with Halifax Wanderers players giving tips on how to eat like a pro.

Children who register don't have to be part of a soccer club, and there's no experience required.

The 'beauty awards'

Doell said camp staff include professional players from the Halifax Wanderers, NCAA-level players and coaches, national championship winners from Cape Breton University, local university coaches and volunteers.

At the end of the week, the "beauty awards" are given to players who demonstrate good sportsmanship.

"That could be helping a teammate, picking up cones without being asked, helping a kid in need. It basically just goes to kids who are committing beautiful acts that aren't related to the soccer game," said Doell. "It's about being a good sport and a good person."

Spots are still available in the July 29 to Aug. 2 camp.

With files from CBC's Information Morning