By Dan Plouffe
There are many who would sympathize that working from home during the pandemic wasn’t always the greatest, but if you’re Kristina Kiss and your usual office had been the soccer pitch, the switch to a full-time administrative role often felt tortuous.
“The first thing I learned was I’m not one to sit in front of a computer eight hours a day,” smiles Ottawa City Soccer Club’s new U6-U12 girls’ coaching director, reflecting on her short stint as Canada Soccer’s manager of development/programming.
“It ended up not being a great fit for me and I really missed being on the field.”
Kiss’s role with the national sports governing body was focused on promoting inclusivity in soccer, particularly among women, marginalized and underrepresented groups.
“I’ve been working in the game my whole life now, and I still don’t see a lot of women, especially in technical leadership roles,” notes Kiss, who never had a female coach in her whole career, but is now part of a generation of past Team Canada players taking charge, such as Portland Thorns general manager Karina LeBlanc.
“I think (having female leaders) is really important,” adds the veteran of 75 international appearances. “It brings a different voice to the game. Things are changing, philosophies are changing. There’s a different approach to coaching and technical leadership. It’s more inclusive. There are friendlier voices popping up.”
Kiss says it’s also important for young players to have female coaching role models so they can see and believe that’s a job they could do one day themselves.
“Of course, there’s some fantastic men out there, but we definitely need different perspectives and a variety of different cultures in order to really move the game forward,” highlights the Ottawa Sport Hall of Famer.
Through her work with Canada Soccer, Kiss saw that there are many good inclusion initiatives happening across Canada, and that people are aware that there are communities that aren’t being served properly.
She also observed that, in some ways, the first step on the path towards inclusion is missing – organizations don’t have a true measure of whether or not the soccer community is representative of the actual community.
Perhaps a centralized registration system where background data is collected could help to learn more, and to identify where gaps are, Kiss signals, followed by more community outreach to understand why some people aren’t participating, or what could help draw them in more.
Kiss also served as a guest coach with the Canadian women’s national team in the lead-up to their triumph at last summer’s Olympics. Compared to her final years with Team Canada, the contrast in environment was “massive,” she indicates.
“It was a whole team of coaches – just as many staff or more staff than players on the team, with a full medical and sports science team, looking after each individual and really taking care of the individual’s needs,” details the member of Canada’s only team to ever reach the World Cup semi-finals in 2003.
“There were coaches for video analysis, technical analysis – the whole approach was very, very different. And then the players were included in the process, which would have never happened when I was a player. And I think there’s a lot more buy-in when you include the players.”
Having top coaches for younger players is critical, says retired Team Canada vet
Kiss’s new job with Ottawa City will see her work with some of the club’s youngest players, where “it’s all about having fun and fostering a love of the game,” underlines Kiss.
“I think you need your top coaches at your grassroots ages,” explains the mother of a 10-year-old boy (who prefers mixed martial arts over soccer). “So much development happens at those ages and it’s so critical to get the right environments and the right type of training for the kids.
“So I think you could actually have more of an impact around the U8 to 12 ages – the golden ages of learning, as they say.”
Kiss will be responsible for growing Ottawa City’s girls’ program, and mentoring their female coaches.
“I think they’re already ahead of the game,” Kiss signals. “There’s a lot of young women working inside the club, and it’s just a matter of giving them the opportunities to grow as coaches at this stage.”
Kiss is also keen to work alongside Ottawa City general manager Kim Gamble, who gave Kiss a hard time when she first joined Gamble’s women’s team as a 15-year-old, but has remained a good friend since then.
“I think the club is on the right trajectory,” adds Kiss, who was previously a technical leader at West Ottawa Soccer Club for a decade. “The stage of their development was an exciting opportunity because there’s a lot of room to kind of add your philosophy and methodology into the growth of the club.”
There is an exceptional amount of enthusiasm for the upcoming soccer season – which kicks off on May 7 at the provincial level and May 16 for regional clubs – after emerging from the dark days of sitting at home in front of a computer through COVID, Kiss observes.
“I’ve been with Ottawa City for two months now, and the amount of development that I can see in the young girls is astonishing,” Kiss highlights. “I think people are almost desperate to return to some sort of normal – normal play, normal life – and they’re just super happy and excited to be out there.”
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