This weekend the Calgary Minor Soccer Association is kicking off its first restriction-free, regular, outdoor season since the pandemic hit in 2020.
The organization estimates there will be roughly 9,000 kids playing on 787 teams.
The 2022 outdoor season, which officially starts Saturday, follows two years of abbreviated versions, which saw registration slip to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
This year, registrations are back up to about 86 per cent and the organization is optimistic those numbers will continue to grow, said Carlo Bruneau, president, Calgary Minor Soccer Association.
"That's a strong sign that people are feeling more confident and feeling good to participate."
Some families say they're glad to have the regular season return, and to get a chance to watch the kids do something they enjoy.
"She's been bragging about trying to get back out, and being with her friends, being with all the other girls and having fun — I think it's wonderful," said Sherryann Phillips, mom of 7-year-old Mercedes.
"My son is in another sport, indoor, and we have yet to watch him at all because of all the COVID rules, so it's nice to be outside again and watching and seeing them grow and develop and playing with other kids," said Megan Low-On, mom to 9-year-old Odin.
Focus on retention
A spokesperson for the Calgary Minor Soccer Association said, like other sports organisations, it has trouble retaining kids after they sign up for one or two years, so it decided to change the way they deliver their programs for the younger players by focusing more on fun and engagement, and less on development.
Last year it introduced a grassroots league across the city aimed at the kids in the Under-9 and Under-7 groups.
"We believe that this model will help kids fall in love with the game … because in the end, development can't happen if kids aren't in the game," said Jordan Stewart, CMSA Technical Leader.
It is modelled after Canada Soccer's Skill Centre Program, with smaller fields, shorter game times, mixed abilities, and open rosters so all kids have equal playing time.
"We've shrunk the game size to be child centric and really just kid friendly," said Stewart.
"To promote lots of time on the ball for players, lots of goals being scored, and more joy and happiness in every match."
Predictable — except for the weather
Teams are being formed in different quadrants of the city so families don't have as far to travel for practices and games.
Jeff Stollery's 8-year-old daughter plays in the grassroots league. Each game is 15 minutes long.
"It's nice to have that set schedule, especially at that age, always on Saturday at this point," said Stollery.
And another bit of normalcy, Stollery and other parents welcome is that the biggest threat to game play will once again be Calgary's unpredictable weather.
"On Wednesday it was actually nicer in the arena than it was out here," added Stollery, who also has a child playing hockey.
"It's been so nice to get back into the swing of things, we are just hoping the weather cooperates. I feel like it's always a bit touch and go," said Low-On.