Ottawa Street Soccer: Changing Lives Through Sport

From the plains of Africa to the 100,000 seat Camp Nou stadium in Spain to the streets of Ottawa, soccer is everywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s being played with a flip-flop, a beach ball or a FIFA regulated soccer ball. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, from age 4-44. Soccer has no age, no language, no race, and more than anything it does not judge based on class or financial status.

Here in Ottawa, as temperatures dip below freezing, every day can be a struggle to find food, shelter, and warm clothing for the homeless. But every Friday night in the fluorescently lit gym of a primary school, a game of soccer gives them a chance to get out of the cold and forget about the problems they face everyday.

I started volunteering with the Ottawa Street Soccer team when it started up just over a year ago. Tatiana Rother, then a graduate student at the University of Ottawa, started the league under the umbrella corporation, Street Soccer Canada. From her own pocket money and time she raised an entire team with donated gym time, clothing, and soccer balls. With her encouragement, the Ottawa community took on and supported this team. I had played soccer at a competitive level, including one year on the Carleton University varsity team, for 12 years and had wanted to volunteer for a while. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. But I had no idea the profound impact this team would have upon the lives of the people who played, and me.

When Darrin first started practicing with us he was living in a shelter in Ottawa. Originally from New Zealand, he had been homeless for a while when he heard about the team. From the moment he stepped onto the field, his personality stood out among all the players. He rose to every challenge with a positive attitude and put his all into every drill. Skill-wise he was a natural and he quickly became one of our star players.

After a few months he decided to quit smoking so he could improve his endurance. He was successful and hasn’t picked up the habit since. His strong will and determination also rubbed off on other players as he quickly assumed the role of team captain. By no means was this an easy job and it had its ups and downs, but through it all he kept going.

Now Darrin is off the streets living in an apartment. He has not only succeeded in his personal life but he is also returning to the team this year as Head Coach. His triumph and story are a true testament to what sports can do.

By volunteering I have seen the struggles of people less fortunate than I. I have seen the pain our money-driven society can inflict on other humans, but I have also seen their triumphs. I have seen how something as simple as a game of soccer can influence a person’s life. Sports can and do help people all over the world and I was fortunate enough to see it happen right in my own backyard in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada because of the Ottawa Street Soccer team.