Soccer’s changing place in Canada & at Queen’s

How diversity and community action grow ‘The Beautiful Game’

Queen's is growing the game of soccer in Kingston through their Jr. Gaels program.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Soccer is the world’s game, but historically, it’s struggled to find its footing in the harsh Canadian climate.

 The path to popularity has not—and will not—be straightforward. Sports like hockey have long dominated the Canadian sports consciousness even in the warmer months, which is something that soccer must compete with. 

Despite consistent quality on the Women’s National Team, with the likes of Christine Sinclair becoming a household name across the country, the men’s side has been comparatively quiet.

But it appears this silence is bound to be broken. With the eruption of stars like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David on the world stage, Canada seems poised to offer performances that may make national giants bat an eye. Add this to co-hosting of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and the ‘World’s Game’ is looking much more Canadian.

In an interview with The Journal, Kyle Ford, fullback for the Queen’s men’s soccer team, spoke to the challenges the sport faces in Canada.

“I’d say it’s just catching up to other nations at the grassroot level. It’s taken Canada a long time to catch up to other nations, I’m not sure if there hasn’t been enough investment in coaching or in funding.”

While Canada might be playing catch-up, Ford, who played his first year for the Queen’s team in the 2019-20 season, believes there’s cause for optimism.

“I do know a lot of hockey players who play soccer in the summer,” Ford said. “Also, with the amount of immigrants that Canada does take in, I mean, soccer is the world’s sport, right? So, they bring that culture here.”

Ford also noted soccer’s affordability and ease of play, also citing it as a safer choice of sport during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it isn’t reliant on contact and doesn’t involve many hands touching the ball.

What drew Ford to the game was the strong social aspect and, of course, the addictive thrill of scoring goals. Despite its positive qualities, soccer has struggled to garner widespread public support at the collegiate level.

“Football’s always been the most popular university sport,” Ford said. “They have the attention of a Homecoming game. It’s the same way in the States; it’s just the natural collegiate sport that everybody rallies around.” 

While the sport might not grab the spotlight, Ford still sees an incredible passion for soccer at Queen’s.

“What drew me to pursue soccer at Queen’s, was the team’s passion,” he said. “I watched them play U of T at home the season before I joined the team. When they scored the winning goal, the entire team celebrated in the corner, coaching staff included. It was a special moment and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Ford also outlined actions take by Queen’s Soccer to foster grassroots growth in the Kingston community through the Jr. Gaels Soccer Program.

The program, which has been running for two years, gives players on the men’s and women’s soccer team the opportunity to coach local youth aged from U-8 to U-18. This past fall, the Jr. Gaels also offered a mentorship program to local high school students. Since then, three players involved in the program signed for the senior team.

Queen’s men’s soccer coach and coach of the Jr. Gaels, Christian Hoefler, echoed the importance of Canadian diversity in growing the sport’s popularity.

“With Canada being really diverse already, and such a wonderful nation, it’s bound to grow here, it’s bound to get even bigger, based on those diversities,” Hoefler said in an interview with The Journal.

What especially drew Hoefler to the game were the leadership and learning opportunities soccer provides.

“I always liked learning, always liked listening to leaders as well as trying to delegate on the field. I eventually became captains for teams.”

Being the coach of the local Jr. Gaels team, Hoefler has been heavily involved with encouraging the growth of soccer in the Kingston area. Queen’s soccer offers a ‘kids’ day’ through the Jr. Gaels Program, where the team invites the community to their matches and provides activities for youth like face painting and games. Many of the kids who come out to these matches sign up for Jr. Gaels, house league soccer, or recreational programs, joining the over 2.5 million registered soccer players nationwide.

In addition to growing the game in Kingston, Hoefler believes the Junior Gaels program is equally as beneficial to the varsity players who coach the younger kids.

“It also benefits our student athletes, because they’re learning how to lead, they’re learning some characteristic traits within coaching, so it’s really a win-win that they can apply in all aspects of their lives.”

Through their community involvement and diverse inclusion, Queen’s soccer ultimately wants to create passion and deep connections with the game.

“The biggest thing is getting that connection to the sport, actually loving the sport, having a good experience, whether it’s recreational or competitive,” Hoefler said. “I think that’s where Canada Soccer, U Sports, OUA, and Queen’s in general are doing really well, and we’re trying to continue to promote that momentum.” 

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