STELLARTON – When an opportunity arose to become the head coach of the Northern Nova United Soccer Club – which Jackie Fitt-Ryan considers family – she knew she had to apply.
After the selection process was complete she was happy to find out she was named to the position and is looking forward to the new challenge.
“This is really special for me because I played on the first team Northern Nova United ever had (U-17),” she said. “At that time we did offer Tier-1, which we don’t offer now. It was when all the clubs in the area amalgamated. The people that started the club are like friends and family to me – like a soccer family. Everyone involved in our club cares about the community and growth of soccer.”
Fitt-Ryan has coached the U-18 NNU team for the past few summers, as well as played on the senior women’s team. She has also helped coach at Northumberland High School in recent years and is the current head coach of the Dal AC Rams women’s soccer team.
As a player in university she played with the Dalhousie Tigers for two, winning a CIS championship before taking a few years off. She then played three years with the UNB Varsity Reds, where she was an AUS all-star in 2006.
“We’re extremely happy to have Jackie, I’ve known her for a number of years and she’s a tremendous player,” said club president Korey Avery. “She had a great playing career in university and has played with our senior womens team for the last number of years as well. She’s got tremendous talent when it comes to playing soccer, but not only that she’s got a great rapport with the kids because she’s been coaching all the way from our U-4 to our U-18 teams, so she’s coached little kids and kids going off to university.”
Following the development plan put in place by the Canadian Soccer Association, Northern Nova decided that for their players to have the best opportunity to learn and improve in their development they needed someone dedicated to the position.
They looked at the financials and allocated funds in the budget to the position, as well as determined what they were looking for in a coach. The board wanted someone that could teach Tier-1 and everything below, but also had experience with coaching kids.
“Basically we’re following the long-term player development plan set out by the CSA and endorsed by Soccer Nova Scotia,” said Avery. “It calls for each club to have a head coach that is a liason with the technical director of the district to help deliver the programming from those two bodies and ensure it’s implemented in the clubs.”
Fitt-Ryan will work alongside technical director Melanie Hill to deliver the programming to the various levels. Hill, who has been with NNU for two years, said she looks forward to working with Fitt-Ryan on making the club even better than it has been in the past.
“We plan to set out a more strategic plan for each age group according to what the CSA development plan says,” said Hill. “I’m very excited to work with Jackie because we’ve coached together at Dal AC and have played together for a few years. We have a great relationship and will work well together.”
Avery said the main focus of the development program will be around the U-8 to U-12 groups, although that doesn’t mean development won’t take place above that. From U-8 to U-10 the program starts to focus on individual skill development. He said they want to grow their academy program, which is kids younger than that, so the player pool is as big as possible when players hit U-8.
“After those years you go into U-12, which we call the golden age of learning when it comes to soccer,” said Avery. “We’re trying to develop those players at U-12 so that they’ll go onto play Tier-1 soccer with the district with our XFC club or Tier-2 soccer with our club.”
With this programming in place the goal of coaches at the club will be on player development first and winning second. Fitt-Ryan said that they want to ensure players are getting equal playing time, especially at the youth level, and that they are learning multiple positions.
“It’s all about the development of our players,” she said. “We aren’t concerned about how many championships or titles we have. As long as we’re developing and playing the game properly the score will come later.”
With this being her first year in the position she said she doesn’t expect to see major changes this summer in the number of players going on to play on Tier-1 or provincial teams, but wants to maintain the program put in place and make the club better overall.
“My goal is – the club has been doing great – so I just want make the club even better,” she said. “We want to offer a different level of training we have not had before. I’m excited to work with coaches, share the knowledge I have and make their training sessions better. One person can’t make everyone better. You have to count on everyone. We want to get stronger as a whole.”
The first registration for Northern Nova United programs is tomorrow from 10 a.m. to noon at the Sobeys Sports Complex in Stellarton.
On Twitter: @NGNewsChris