Soccer fields around town are still covered with snow, but things are reaching a fevered pitch at the administrative level.
A west Winnipeg soccer association is crying foul over pending changes to youth soccer for this coming spring that will make the games less competitive and more developmental. At some levels, league standings will not be tabulated and referees will be conspicuous by their absence.
Nine-year-olds will be the most affected, as their games will switch from being nine players per side to two games of six-on-six on half-fields.
Ian Holland, president of the Charleswood Youth Soccer Association, said he expects many parents will be shocked to discover the changes when they register their nine-year-olds for "glorified house-league soccer" this spring.
"I don't think (administrators) have talked to the parents enough and said, 'Here's what we're doing; are you comfortable with this decision?' " he said.
(Administrators) are dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator. They're trying to keep the kids involved in the game without the fear of winning or losing."
Rob Gale, technical director for the Manitoba Soccer Association, said scores will be kept and game sheets will be filled out. It's all part of a long-term player-development program that's used widely in soccer power nations around the world.
"They're doing this in Europe and South America," he said.
Using smaller fields with fewer players will pay big dividends down the road in terms of skill development and retention of players as they get older, he said.
"Players will get more touches on the ball, more chances to attack and defend and more chances to score and save.
There will be twice the number of goals and balls and the same number of players at the same place," he said.
Holland said he believes this year's crop of nine-year-olds will be disappointed by the set-up at some community centres, as some nets may be marked by pylons instead of actual goal posts.
That's a parent's argument, not a child's, said Adam Dooley, director of communications for the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association.
"I've never met a kid who has gone out and played soccer and worried about the quality of the nets or the lines on the field," he said, noting the WYSA and MSA are going to do their best to help soccer clubs provide proper nets.
Dooley said all the changes will reduce the average sign-up costs per player to about $100, down $40 to $70 depending on the community centre. He said he's optimistic that will help reduce the "huge drop-off" of players from eight years old to nine.
"One of the reasons is there's a giant leap from mini-soccer to big kids soccer. We want to eliminate the cost barrier as much as possible and have the transition be as seamless and unintimidating as possible," he said.
The Bonivital Soccer Club is in favour of the changes, according to Ben McKinley, its general manager. He said the structure and guidance that will be provided for coaches, most of whom are parents, will be invaluable. The fact this type of development model is used by soccer powers around the world is as strong a testimonial as you can get, he said.
"I certainly don't think we should be reinventing the wheel if we don't have to. If there is a module that has shown to be a success in other countries, I think we should endeavour to emulate it," he said.