Kevin Wagner, director of player and coaching development at Meridian Soccer, takes questions from a crowd of parents and supporters of the new organization during a meeting at Lakeland College on Monday. JAMIE HARKINS LLS PHOTO
Lloydminster soccer is changing.
The Lloydminster Drillers and Lakeland Rustlers United Soccer Program (LRUSP) youth groups were combined into Meridian Soccer on June 1, in an effort to grow participation in the game among the younger age groups, and better develop coaches and players.
Over 100 parents, players and supporters came to a discussion about the new organization’s goals at a Lakeland College lecture hall on Monday.
Kevin Wagner, director of player and coaching development at Meridian Soccer, said the Lloydminster soccer community is too small for competing organizations.
He said combining the Drillers and LRUSP will create better opportunities for its players and coaches who will get the chance to learn the game under one common philosophy.
“We have to maintain the small base we have, and it would be nice in the community to find a way where it is recognized as a core sport,” said Wagner. “Once we can do that, then I think we’ll start gaining more success.”
Wagner said the game of soccer needs to make some inroads into elementary, middle school and high school extracurricular entities.
He said a way to achieve that goal is proving the value of the sport through helping more kids enter into high performance training, and receive an opportunity to gain postsecondary athletic scholarships through soccer.
Helping kids under the age of 11 learn and love the game will be a primary focus of Meridian Soccer, noted Wagner.
An emphasis on providing support to volunteer coaches will be a major part of effecting this change.
“What we need is more kids playing at two, three, four, five and six,” said Wagner. “And better standards of coaches to deal with them and to work with them, so that we can encompass a high number of players and also, with that, better players.
“So, it’s both coaching development and it is player development at the young age groups to foster long-term growth.”
Wagner said they’re still dealing with registration numbers for the upcoming indoor soccer season, but about 300 kids were involved in the program last year.
He said that number rose to around 800 for the April to June outdoor program, showing that soccer does have a strong base that is capable of growing through greater development, increased expectations, and a buy in from all the parties involved.
“You saw it here today,” he said.
“There were over 100 people-plus here, and for the most part they were people voicing not concerns, but just different ideas. The room felt to me like there wasn’t going to be discontent and parents who supported one program or the other program, (but were) willing to step forward and try to provide opportunities for their kids.”