A Guide to Playing Canadian University Soccer   -  by Rob Kelly

As discussed in our previous newsletter, post-secondary soccer has two major governing bodies. The CCAA generally governs colleges and smaller universities in Canada while U SPORTS is the governing body for the majority of degree-granting universities in Canada. This week’s newsletter will be a guide for young soccer players who are looking to play for a U SPORTS team (formerly CIS).

U SPORTS is the national governing body for soccer at the university level in Canada. and currently includes 56 member institutions. These 56 member universities are currently organized into the following regional conferences:

CANADA WEST: Universities in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
OUA: Ontario University Athletics.
RSEQ: Quebec Student Sport Federation
AUS: Atlantic University Sport      

University sport in Canada underwent a significant transformation in October, 2016 when Canadian Inter-university Sport (CIS) re-branded as U SPORTS. The organization’s switch to a bilingual name was followed by an engagement-first social media philosophy, an exciting new website that focuses on promoting student-athletes and their stories, as well as an emphasis on uniting 56 universities and four regional conferences under a national brand.  

Differences Between College and University Soccer in Canada
Skill Level: There are high calibre players on both college and university teams. The difference being, on college rosters the playing ability of players will vary from very skilled to modestly skilled. Typically, a university roster will have all high skilled athletes.
Length of Playing Career: Usually a college soccer player will be enrolled in a 2-year program so their college playing career is also usually only 2 years, however, many will stretch the 2 years into 3 or transfer to a University after their 2 years at college. University soccer players will usually play 4 to 5 years.
Benefits to Both:

College: Quite often playing for a college team will give you the opportunity to stay close to home, tuition is usually less and because many of the colleges are based in smaller cities, you can make a real impact on your community. There are plenty of scholarship opportunities in CCAA and U SPORTS.
University: You have a larger window of opportunity. If you don’t play much in year one or two you can develop and then play regularly your last 2 or 3 years. Often the facilities and coaching is better at the University level. The quantity of spectators and media attention are not overwhelming at either level, but you are likely to feel “more watched” playing for a U SPORTS team.

How does a young athlete earn a spot on a U SPORTS team roster?

The amount of recruiting varies from school to school at the U SPORTS level. In college soccer, sometimes small and more isolated schools will need to recruit all or most of their players. They need to go out and find players. At the U SPORTS level it is much more common for the players to seek out the school rather than the reverse.
At both levels the coaches are usually wearing many hats. They coach their school team but are also involved in some capacity in other leagues within their community.

The coaching staff for the University of Calgary Dinos are all heavily involved in the local youth soccer community so they are often in attendance at local youth fixtures, tournaments and showcases. They have established relationships with several minor soccer clubs. However, don’t expect University coaches to come knocking on your door. Young athletes need to make themselves known.
Players almost exclusively approach us, rarely do we approach a player and this applies to the international student as well.
 U of C Dinos Head Coach Troye Flannery
The UBC Okanagan University does actively recruit. They have a passionate, but small, local soccer community so they do need to attract players from a larger geographical area than big city schools.
We actively recruit players by watching games, attending showcase events and by contacts in the sport, but we also use our ID camp and players that come to us by sending an email or video.
UBC Okanagan Heat Head Coach Dante Zanatta
What to expect at a U SPORT ID Camp?
At the UBC Okanagan they host a 3 day ID camp each March that consists of a Friday session, 2 Saturday sessions and an 11 v 11 game against the current squad on the Sunday for the players that are selected. The sessions have a mixture of small sided games with coaching interventions and possession-based work that allows the coaches to work with the players and get to know them better and vice versa.

What type of players are U SPORTS coaches looking for?

University coaches are looking for students who take their academics seriously and must have the right attitude. They need to have soccer ability, good habits and technical competence. They need to have intelligence on and off the ball and must be very athletic.
U SPORTS players need to have character, be coachable, but also have technical and athletic ability at a high level.

International Players

Unlike college soccer, there isn't a maximum number of international players per team in U SPORTS soccer. Typically an international student needs to apply to the university at least 8 months in advance of the start of their first semester. International players will also need a study permit, a Canadian Social Insurance Number and Health Insurance. International students interested in playing soccer should email the coach for instructions on how they should try-out. Most coaches will ask for video.

What is the time commitment needed to be successful at this level?

UBC Okanagan

Regeneration on Monday
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on the pitch for 90 minutes
2 games on the weekend which means when travelling the players are away all weekend.
The players will also have to fit weight training in twice a week.

 U of C

In season, soccer specific training 3 times per week at 9:00 AM
Two times per week at 4:00 PM with a strength and conditioning coach
Yoga once per week
League fixtures on weekends, Fri/Sun or Sat/Sun
Off-season is one game per week, one session per week and two strength coach sessions per week.A varsity season runs from training camp in August to Nationals in November.

Further questions: If you have any further questions in regards to playing university soccer in Canada please feel free to contact me, Rob Kelly at soccercoachcanada@gmail.com and I will answer your questions or direct you to someone who can.

Thank you to the following programs for their assistance with this guide to playing university soccer in Canada:

UBC Okanagan, University of Calgary, McMaster University
Images of UBC Okanagan Heat by GreyStoke Photography


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