By Ottawa Sportspage, for Ottawa TFC Soccer Club
The COVID cloud hanging over Ottawa has felt a fair bit darker as more rigid restrictions return, and frustration is mounting among local sport leaders who’d worked hard to figure out how to make sport as safe as possible during pandemic times, only to be dealt a step backwards.
But the daily reality at the soccer pitch doesn’t match the gloom in the slightest. The enthusiasm for training, even in a modified format, is palpable among Ottawa TFC competitive/academy players, always eager for the opportunity to get out on the field with a soccer ball.
“The numbers speak for themselves – in what’s supposed to be the worst year, we have higher interest than ever, and the attendance is nearly 100%, even when it’s rainy and cold,” highlights Ottawa TFC General Manager Pavel Cancura, underlining another key number – zero positive COVID tests in the club.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep everyone safe, while also still getting out there on the field,” he adds.
In a day and age where depression, isolation and screen time were becoming a public health crisis before the virus hit, getting the chance to participate in sport is perhaps more crucial at this time than ever, Cancura maintains.
“It’s super, super important,” explains the UEFA ‘A’-licenced coach. “This is a place where our players can learn tons of skills that become pivotal later in life. There are these massive social, human, and leadership pieces to this, and this experience absolutely brings it to the forefront.”
When the pandemic first hit, Ottawa TFC was one of the first (if not the very first) club to pivot to virtual training. The message to players then was that they could keep a leg up on their idle competitors, when there was still hope there’d be some form of competition season in 2020.
“Now the kids are actually keener than ever, more passionate than ever, and it’s not like it’s fuelled by wanting to play for the championship or anything,” says Cancura, noting coaches can’t fool players into believing they need to be ready for an upcoming competition they know doesn’t exist.
“It becomes more about pushing yourself for yourself, and improving yourself for yourself. And also knowing that this isn’t the end of time and the end of sports, there will eventually be games again.”
The 2020 soccer season was certainly a downer for Ottawa TFC coming off an immensely successful debut campaign in 2019, filled with groundbreaking player, team and club achievements. But one thing Cancura will always remember about 2020 is the way the club pulled together to respond to the pandemic.
“It really highlights the strength of community,” he indicates, noting that a trip to the pitch on a cool autumn day puts Ottawa TFC players’ resolve on full display. “I think that now more than ever, people have started to understand the core existential reason for all their dedication is that they love it, plain and simple.
“We’re here because we love the sport and we love one another.”