“The quality on the female side, especially at the younger ages now, is also amazing, and we can attribute that back to the success of the national women’s team over the last several years.”
Leslie says registration, particularly at the U7 and U9 levels for girls, has noticeably increased in recent years, and the cores of older teams have more often stuck together as opposed to dissolving.
“It shows that they’re developing and gaining more skill while younger, and then they translate that into league success,” says Leslie, adding that what’s key is focusing on what really matters at a young age.
“It’s about fun and we can’t lose sight of that. If we do that, the rest will fall into place. As grassroots coaches, sometimes it may not seem like we’re teaching them soccer-specific skills at ages four and five, but physical literacy and how to become a good athlete is just as important.”
Leslie says what makes it even easier for young girls to stay involved is having role models at the national level.
Another story related to one many are calling a role model is that of Quinn, who becomes the first openly transgender player to win an Olympic medal.
Quinn, a 25-year-old who plays for the Tacoma, WA-based OL Reign, also won bronze with Canada’s women’s soccer team in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but had not yet come out. They eventually did so in 2020.
Bobbi-Jo L’Hirondelle, chair of Red Deer’s Trans and Non-Binary Aid Society (TANAS), describes Quinn’s accomplishment as one of the most important things to happen for the gender-diverse community in recent memory.
“It gives the members in our community who are struggling to find their way an amazing role model, and it lets them know that being gender-diverse is not going to set them back from reaching any goals they’ve set, nor from reaching for the stars,” says L’Hirondelle.
“Those goals are obtainable, and it’s amazing to see this person stand up and be their authentic self for the whole world to see and for them to bring back a medal for our community. It brings joy to me personally to know that the Olympics didn’t discriminate or try to disqualify them based on their gender identity.”