No games, no fans: Nelson Soccer adjusts to pandemic restrictions

Elijah Brown taps a pass to another player from his restricted space during a skills training session at Lakeside Park on July 14. Photo: Tyler Harper
Nelson Soccer Association began skills training sessions in lieu of games earlier this month. Players are assigned to boxes where they do their drills. Photo: Tyler Harper
Nelson Soccer coach Iain Harvey directs his players during a break. Harvey and other coaches wear gloves to handle the ball and stay within their own mandated area. Photo: Tyler Harper
Although there are no games now, Nelson Soccer’s executive director says he hopes that might change with smaller scrimmages in September. Photo: Tyler Harper

The player dutifully approaches the table and sanitizes their hands. They answer a question about their health then jog to a boxed-off area where they’ll practise on a quiet field for the next hour.

Soccer looks very different at Lakeside Park these days.

Nelson Soccer Association typically has over 1,300 players taking part in its outdoor programs, with every available field packed by children and parents on Saturdays. But with the season scrapped by the COVID-19 pandemic, the best NSA was able to offer was a month of physically distanced skills training that required approval from the city as well as Canada Soccer.

That means no games and no spectators. But, for executive director Sveta Tisma and the 195 players who signed up for training in July, the sport lives on.

“The beauty of it is no one knew how this is gonna go, and I’m super positively surprised because kids are listening,” said Tisma.

The training sessions have been running weekly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Coaches show up 15 minutes prior to the session and players arrive five minutes later. The field is split into four zones limited to boxes of 10 players, as well as a space for coaches to work in. This keeps the number of people on the field under 50, although Tisma said the association hasn’t come close to the mandated limit at any of the sessions.

The drills, which were provided by BC Soccer, allow for players to make passes between each other while the boxes offer enough space for movement and cardio.

Tisma said the inability to scrimmage has the benefit of focusing players on different types of training.

“In my mind, we don’t do this enough. We don’t do skills enough, you know, when they are touching the balls by themselves. We play most and then you have skills and team skills, but we don’t do this part enough. So this is almost a plus.”

Nelson Soccer will take a break from the sessions in August. In September, Tisma hopes BC Soccer will move to Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan, which allows for modified competition such as five-on-five scrimmages. He also wants to expand the ages of players allowed to participate. Currently, only children aged 10 to 12, rep players aged 13 to 18, and adults 19 and up are taking part.

Right now, he just wants people to notice the work being done to keep everyone healthy.

“If you do this safely, my goal is you want to bring [players] here in a safe environment, do this and they go home, they didn’t get infected. So we take responsibility for them while they’re here.

“Hopefully this goes really well.”

Related:

Gymnastics, soccer tentatively resume in Nelson

Local Whitecaps players moving on to play at university

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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