Soccer has always been the most played sport for children in Canada, both because it is the world’s game and Canada is as multicultural a nation as it gets, but also because compared to hockey or baseball, soccer is relatively cheap and accessible. However, there is a creeping disparity in opportunities to play the game between those in suburban and urban areas.
In the suburbs around and outside Toronto, parks and pitches are plenty. Downtown, though, access to the world’s supposedly most accessible game has become tricky. Green spaces have given way to condominium towers, school fields have been lost to public/private partnerships and gone are the days – parents tell me – that you let children go to the park for hours unsupervised.
This is where NUTMEG have stepped in. NUTMEG – not for profit united team mentors educators and grassroots coaches – are running a free soccer program for children aged 7-12 at Ryerson Community School in downtown Toronto. Each session involves skills and leadership training, an educational theme, special guests such as Ron Smale, the president of the Ontario Soccer Association, and of course matches to finish things off.
NUTMEG state that their mission is to “provide free, fun and safe soccer training and educational sessions for underserved children and youth in Toronto by connecting everything to our values of friendship, fun, respect, equity, education and teamwork.”
At this point, I have to declare an interest. I have been a volunteer coach with NUTMEG for the past three weeks, but take it from me, they are achieving their mission. The children are clearly having an incredible amount of fun and visibly improving from week to week. They are also learning about the game, about each other and about values important both in sport and in life.
Here’s Alicia Luciani, one of NUTMEGs three co-founders:
Why and how did NUTMEG come about?
AL: “NUTMEG was born out of friendship, love for the beautiful game and a common desire to give back to the community. After co-hosting a charity soccer tournament in August 2015 with Toronto Soccer Connection and ActiveMatch called “Give Cancer the Boot”, Jon [Ellis] and Javier [Diaz], and I (the three co-founders) felt so inspired and knew we wanted to continue devoting our energy and respective skill sets to something we really cared about that involved soccer.
We have all experienced and witnessed how the game can be transformative, whether through friendship, camaraderie and personal skills that it helps develop, or through the passion that it evokes in players, fans, and parents. It is no secret that kids from more affluent families are more involved in organized sports, and this disparity in participation motivated our desire to help kids whose families cannot afford to sign them up for club sports, because we want everyone to be able to experience the transformative power of the game.
We all agreed that we wanted to create and deliver a program that combines soccer skills with life skills, and never looked back. We want nothing more than to provide a safe environment where kids can learn new skills and have fun, while being surrounded by volunteers who truly care!”
Where would you like NUTMEG to get to, in the future?
AL: “We plan on expanding NUTMEG so that it is serving more than one location in Toronto. We want to increase the accessibility and population base of children that can enter and play soccer, stay in the game, stay healthy and active, learn life skills and have fun. We believe that grassroots sport relies heavily on the involvement of volunteers, that is why we have a lot of volunteers at every NUTMEG session, and we try to elevate their knowledge and capability.
We eventually want to help subsidize coaching courses for interested volunteers, and allow them to lead their own sessions as well. For the kids, we also are continuously laying building blocks for transferable life skills, in the hopes that our program will enable kids to become leaders, and potentially become the new generation of volunteers with NUTMEG!”
How can people help if they are interested?
AL: “If you are interested in volunteering with NUTMEG as a coach or if you are more interested in the communications side, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and their team will be happy to meet with you to speak about your passion for the game of soccer and interest in being involved working with kids with NUTMEG.”
In the meantime, visit the website and if you live in Toronto help spread the word about this small but growing organization doing a terrific job of getting kids active, engaged and playing the best game ever invented.
NUTMEG is grateful to the Ontario Ministry of Education and the TDSB Priority Schools Initiative for the funding that made this program possible. To MJKO and Playing for Keeps for a micro grant towards the program and sharing their experience on community initiatives. To Ready, Set Play Children’s Charity for sponsoring kids participation in the program and insightful advice. To the parents and players of SC Toronto 2013 Girls OPDL for their equipment donations. And to Toronto Soccer Connection for helping to advertise the program.