Girls begin playing soccer for a myriad of reasons. The trick, according to Natalie Lawrence, is how to keep them in the game for life.
Providing direction to young female players is the primary job of Lawrence, who works for the Vancouver Whitecaps as assistant coach of the team’s girls elite regional excel centre and was in Nelson last week for a weekend of presentations and clinics.
During a talk Friday, Lawrence spoke about what players can do to stay connected to soccer.
“There’s so many options. I don’t know whether everyone’s aware of them,” she said. “There’s options for a recreational player up to an elite player. Whether you go to a local university, get a scholarship through academics, there’s huge opportunities to be part of a team and play soccer.
“If that’s not what you want to do, then you can continue to play here and be part of co-ed teams, women’s leagues. You can continue in other aspects as well. Coaching, refereeing, admin, any way to inspire younger females to continue playing. There’s so much opportunity.”
Originally from Britain, Lawrence has been coaching for 15 years. She spent four years in New Zealand developing prospects for the women’s national team, and with the Whitecaps coaches players aged 5-to-18 years old, some of whom are on national rosters.
But outside coaching, she said a love of the game has kept her on the pitch. When arriving in a new country, Lawrence said she uses recreational soccer as a way of making friends.
“In my experience I’ve been involved in football forever, but I’ve not always been involved in football. I’ve come back. I suppose that’s the biggest thing this weekend, finding out why players are leaving when they leave and sitting down with coaches and figuring out how we can inspire more females to stay, whether or it’s playing or in all aspects of the game.”
Canadian women’s soccer has surged in popularity over the last decade.
The national team, led by Christine Sinclair, won bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games, and Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015. At home, L.V. Rogers won gold at the 2016 high school provincials and hosted last year’s event. Nelson Soccer Association’s girls teams, meanwhile, are perennial contenders at provincials.
Lawrence stressed there are plenty of options for players not done with the game once they’ve aged out of local teams.
In addition to Canadian and American university scholarships, Lawrence told players they can try out for the B.C. Premier League, which can lead to invitations to high-performance camps that are scouted by national teams.
“The beauty of female soccer is that at any stage in your career you can get seen.”