The Glory on the Grate is perhaps best known for breaking up the plane and marching into the end zone for either an airborne or a quick landing.
But as any good soccer player knows, it takes good defense to make pay dirt.
That’s exactly what a new partnership between the Canadian Football League Players Association (CFLPA) and Football Canada hopes to create, creating opportunities to attract more youth to football in the country.
The partnership’s first project is called the First Down Program, an initiative designed to help develop and grow the sport at grassroots level.
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“It even goes beyond our football game, we see that kids are less active these days,” said Jim Mullin, President of Football Canada.
“A program like First Down is really loosely structured and involves about 45 minutes of activity – it gets the kids out on the field, grass underfoot, picking up a ball, throwing a ball.
“It’s great for us that we’ve developed a program that has that introductory factor to build that relationship with football, but it’s also a relationship with physical activity.”
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“The lessons that the sport teaches you are vital,” added Brian Ramsay, Executive Director of the CFLPA.
“Our members have gone through these programs to get where they are now. Today, those lessons matter, the programs matter, and the expansion of those programs matters.
“If you look at the sport and what it does for the mind and body, these are things that our members want to be a part of. If there’s an opportunity to help and expand those opportunities, that’s something our guys want to do.”
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Football Canada has recognized that a large number of players entering the sport are introduced to the game as teenagers in high school, which will hopefully change as grassroots football programs increase to engage younger children.
“In Canada, our sport has late entrants, and by that I mean kids like 14, 15, 16 who grow up playing other sports before they get into football,” Mullin explained.
“We need to develop them at a younger age, especially on the flag side.”
The First Down program kicks off the weekend of September 16th and aligns perfectly with football weekend in Canada.
The free try-out program for kids ages 4-8 is taking place this weekend in CFL City and will feature members of current players’ associations who are helping to create hype about football among the youth.
“How important is it that these players have these ambassadors that go into the communities and do these first down programs, I think that’s absolutely necessary,” Mullin said. “There’s no grand plan or scheme, it’s personal one-on-one relationships that we share to expand the game.”
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Mullin knows only too well the power of a personal connection between a young athlete and players who have made it to the pro ranks.
“I remember when my fandom really took off with the Canadian Football League, for me it was at the age of nine,” he recalled. “Four BC Lions showed up at a sporting goods store. I went over with my parents, saw the four BC Lions. I was a talkative kid and I was totally into them, throwing a football down the aisles with them – my love of football was kindled in that moment.”
Experiences like Mullin’s are both hopeful for both the Players’ Association and Football Canada, as they are also committed to partnering on programs that provide union members with coaching certification while continuing to give back to the sport in Canada.
“If we can help our members educate themselves in the coaching techniques, the safety techniques, and the techniques that they can then pass on to the next generation,” Ramsay said. “It helps our members in their everyday transition, but it also helps the sport in the future.”
“We have a pool of professional players who want to take advantage of this educational opportunity and Football Canada has a coaching certification. There are all sorts of levels in terms of coaching and coach education right now,” Mullin said.
Mullin says he hopes to reach around 5,000 children when the program launches in September.
Locations, dates and times will be announced later in August.
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