Aldergrove Youth Soccer Club (AYSC) coach Brian Hunter was happy to be back on the field over the Dec. 5 weekend, enjoying unseasonably warm weather while conducting drills outdoors with younger players.
“Saturday was beautiful” Hunter remarked.
He’d brought cold-weather gear but didn’t need it.
“I just had my hoodie and track pants.”
The kids had a blast.
Following a temporary two-week pause in activities in response to rising COVID-19 numbers last month, the AYSC has made a cautious return to the field under strict rules that forbid contact and require players, coaches, parents, and referees to keep their distance from each other while practicing.
On December 2, the B.C. Health Authority and Dr. Bonnie Henry suspended adult indoor and outdoor soccer, while allowing youth (under-19) indoor and outdoor soccer to occur under the strictest “Phase 1” soccer guidelines, where players participate in “distance training” with no game play allowed.
Under those restrictions, the minimum physical distance between players is now set at three metres (about nine feet), no spectators are allowed, and teams are not permitted to travel outside their home towns.
Instead of 40 kids together on the field, the AYSC has split them into four group of 10, and they are kept well apart.
“We’re having to rent a whole extra field [to maintain distancing]” Hunter told the Langley Advance Times.
No scrimmaging is allowed, including two-on-two matches.
“We can’t even do that,” Hunter said.
The return to the strict guidelines imposed during the early days of the of the pandemic has been a challenge, but one worth meeting, Hunter believes.
“Kids love to play” Hunter commented.
“We’re doing the best with what we’ve got. Its the old saying – if you get lemons, you make lemonade.”
One potential positive is the fact that more coaches are on the field guiding fewer players, which means “more eyes to help them improve ,” Hunter noted.
“Maybe in the long run, it will be a good thing,” Hunter mused.
“Next year, when we’re back to whatever passes for normal, they’ll be better for it.”
Right now, the club has around 180 young players from U5 to U12, the usual amount for this time of year.
Where the pandemic has hurt the club is among older players, the U13, U15 and U16 categories, with some parents opting to remove kids from playing during the outbreak.
That, plus the fact some of kids in those categories have transferred to other clubs that offer a more advanced level of play, meant there weren’t enough in some age groups to form teams.
“We sent most of those kids to play in an Abbotsford program,” Hunter advised.
It has been a year of ups and down for the club, following an all-out shutdown due to COVID-19 for several months that eased, slowly, under a methodical return-to-play plan.
If all had gone well, AYSC would have been looking at a return to game play some time after Thanksgiving, Hunter estimated.
But then, the case rates started to increase, and the restrictions were tightened.
Right now, AYSC practices can take place, but no spectators are allowed.
Parents are being asked to drop players off at the field and leave the immediate area and wait in their car.
An exception is made for very young players, U5 and U6, where the clubs asks that only one parent be available for safety and monitoring purposes.
“Please continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing while dropping your child off at the field,” the club web page said.
The club expects all parents and guardians to wear masks at all times while participating in AYSC activities, with the exception of people with medical conditions.
Players, coaches, team leaders, and referees must wear a mask as theyapproach and depart the fields, but are exempt from wearing them while on the field.
Every player must see their coach or team leader for hand sanitizing upon arrival and upon departure and a COVID-19 Screening questionnaire must be completed on check-In prior to every training session .