Sports

Haligonians build social and soccer skills in community program

Street Soccer Canada is on a mission to engage marginalized city members

Halifax Street Soccer players Jabar, Randy Jollymore and Moe Younis celebrate their victory with program organizer program organizer Nick Smart
Halifax Street Soccer players Jabar, Randy Jollymore and Moe Younis celebrate their victory with program organizer program organizer Nick Smart.   Payge Woodard

There is a community growing in Halifax that revolves around soccer and a mission to help people in need.

Street Soccer Canada is a community sport program that brings all different kinds of people together under one common bond. The program’s mission is one of inclusion, as it is aimed at getting marginalized members of society engaged and active.

Street Soccer was launched in Halifax as a positive outlet for the homeless living in shelters, people struggling with mental health or addiction issues and those who simply need a place where they can be part of a community.

Lucas Goltz was the man who brought the program to Halifax, as he came from Vancouver where it was already underway. Being a participant and strong supporter of the program’s cause, he saw a need for a similar program in the Maritimes.

Nick Smart serves as a program organizer and equipment manager, helping to lead the program since Goltz moved back to Vancouver. He says that community sport programs like Halifax Street Soccer have a positive impact on those dealing with personal issues.

“They are vital,” Smart said.

“We’ve had some people come that were having a lot of problems in their personal lives, crime problems, just problems adapting to society and its definitely helped turn them around.”

Johnny and Rene are two special needs players that come out to Halifax Street Soccer on a consistent basis. Smart has seen them develop confidence in the sport while also getting in shape and making friends.

“Johnny has lost a lot of weight playing with us,” Smart said. “He’s a lot more athletic and healthier for it.”

“When I first started playing with him he would just kind of kick the ball at any opportunity and he would always strike with his toe. He was actually defending me quite well on Sunday, it was the best defense I had ever seen him play.”

Rene deals with Asperger syndrome and is also a key member of the Halifax Street Soccer community. Players in the league have seen him become an integral part of the team, a feeling that is all the more important for people who struggle to socially adapt in a large city.

“Rene is turning into quite the defender,” Smart said. “He’s a good guy to have back on the last line of defense because he’s good at getting in there, getting his foot on the ball and getting it down to the forwards.”

A recent mental health study of Atlantic Canada found that one of the strongest contributors to positive mental health is having a connection to a social network. Halifax Street Soccer has the power to bring people together in a way that fosters both personal development and lasting friendships.

“I can tell that they’re all making friends because you see the number of mutual friends growing on Facebook and you see them interacting on social media,” Smart said. “It’s an online community and then a real community on Sunday nights.”

Nick, Randy, Moe and Jabar celebrate their Halifax Street Soccer championship victory.
Nick, Randy, Moe and Jabar celebrate their Halifax Street Soccer championship victory.   Zack Smart

While the program is having success in Halifax and attracts a decent turnout every week, there is still room to grow.

“I think it’s having an impact,” Smart said. “I don’t think it’s having as big an impact as it could, but it’s definitely having an impact for the people who participate and the people who it’s become a weekly part of their lives.”

“It definitely can go up from here, just have to get the word out,” Smart added.

Programs like Street Soccer are important for cities like Halifax because they specifically address a growing problem of too many people being left behind.

“I think they’re important in larger cities because the larger the city, usually the more population of endangered people, homeless people and people who slipped through the cracks of the system,” Smart said.

Street Soccer is in 15 different major cities across the country, with the Halifax program currently being the only one in Atlantic Canada. You will find players like Johnny and Rene getting together every Sunday night for soccer at the St. Andrew’s United Church gym.