For six Sunday mornings this spring, women over 40 years of age have been going downtown and paying $15 to learn from younger women how to get their kicks. It’s nothing shady or illicit. In fact, it’s a totally virtuous exhibit of women at different stages of life sharing their skills, experience and support.
It’s the University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s Sunday morning soccer camp. The program brings together players from the fledgling team — who have loads of skill but little money — with women in their 40s who are more than happy to donate $15 a session toward the team’s scholarship fund, for tips on how to improve their game.
"Young women student athletes help women who are older to learn the game, encourage and support one another — and in turn, we can develop a big sister-alumni type support group for the players," said Wesmen head coach Amy Anderson.
Her players get out of bed Sunday mornings and volunteer at the camp, helping women their mothers’ age improve their soccer skills.
"Our team hasn’t been in existence very long," midfielder Rachel Antonia Dunsmore, 23, said. It doesn’t have an alumni group to help raise funds.
University women’s sports teams aren’t guaranteed. Last week, the University of North Dakota cut its women’s hockey team in response to budget cuts, leaving four of its players who are from Manitoba in the lurch.
U of W soccer coach Anderson came up with the idea for an over-40 fundraising camp three years ago.
"I was trying to encourage a friend who was in her early 50s to play soccer. This idea of creating a safe, encouraging and fun place for women to play soccer appealed to me," said Anderson, who grew up in Winnipeg, has an extensive coaching history and has played in Britain.
"Lots of soccer programs are targeted towards youth, and one of the great things about the facility at U of W is that we want it accessible to all. We needed to fundraise money for the program, which can be tricky (to achieve) in times where there is so much need for other programs. I think the public has an impression that university soccer players are on full scholarships, but this is not the case."
The Sunday morning soccer camp has grown since it started three years ago at the Axworthy Health and RecPlex, said Wesmen forward Jamila Calvez, 20. Her mom and aunt are both participating.
"There’s been a huge turnout this year," Calvez said. Volunteers Crystal Simmons and Cherianne McClure, who belong to teams in the masters division for women 35 and up, went to games around the city inviting women 40 and over to take part.
The effort paid off — more than 50 women show up Sundays now.
"It’s super important, financially, for us players," Calvez said. "That’s where our money is coming from. It’s pretty much one of our key things we’ve got going." Calvez is in her third year of environment science. She wants to be a conservation officer and to keep playing soccer well into middle age.
Dunsmore, a sociology major, said Sunday mornings have been an eye-opener.
"The problem today is a lot of social spaces are really age-segregated. I think it’s powerful to have different ages and different generations together — especially for women," she said.
Older women who compete against one another on different masters and co-ed teams come together Sunday mornings from all over the city, from all walks of life, and with different soccer skills, "from people who’ve never played before to people who have some basic skills to the more advanced," she added.
"It’s easy to judge ourselves and each other and to feel small," Dunsmore said, but that’s not what she is seeing. "The women are really positive and supportive, and that’s a great example and a role model for us younger women on the team. It’s great that our coach has set up this thing."
Heather Shayna, 50, agrees.
"It’s a great little soccer program for women over 40 who never played soccer growing up." The former soccer mom decided at 40 that she wanted to play, too. Now she plays with the Pink Ladies in the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League masters division.
"It was more of a camaraderie thing with friends. A bunch of girls who hadn’t played soccer decided to give it a shot.
"A lot of us enjoy the game but don’t know how to play. We’re not very good at technique. I still toe-punt the ball. But you see the young girls kick and position their bodies and how to play the sport and learn the skills and how to do it better."
The young Wesmen women may learn a thing or two from their older students.
"It’s going to be a good lesson for them — to come out of their shells a bit," Shayna said. "Right now, they’re quiet. At 18, 19, 20, that’s a quieter time — you’re learning your way in the world and not very confident in who we are and what we’re about."
It’s important to support women’s teams such as the Wesmen, said Shayna, who was a national badminton player in her student days in Winnipeg and is now is in the insurance business.
"Keeping women’s sport alive at the university level is super important. Winnipeg has a really great soccer route for young kids starting at three and four. Our kids can play local soccer and they don’t have to go away to a university in the U.S."
Wesmen head coach Anderson deserves a lot of credit for reaching out to the community to help U of W women’s soccer thrive, Shayna said.
"She has a deep passion for her sport and cares about the girls who play on her team."