Youth girl soccer players from Abbotsford and Chilliwack received a unique opportunity to train with Canadian women’s soccer legend goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe.
The 2020 gold medal and 2016 bronze medal winner made her second stop in B.C. on Tuesday (June 7) as part of a nationwide ‘Champion Tour’. She kicked off the B.C. run in Vernon on Monday (June 6) and also has stops in Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
The clinic featured a number of tips and drills, a scrimmage and a select number of players got the opportunity to shoot a penalty kick on the runner-up for the 2021 Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper.
— Ben Lypka (@BenLypka) June 7, 2022
It closed off with a 30-minute motivational talk from Labbe, who spoke of her challenges in life and sports growing up and of her triumphs both on and off the pitch. Participants could then ask questions, take pictures with the gold medallist and get her to autograph an item.
Labbe, who announced her retirement on Jan. 19, 2022, said the tour is a way to pass on knowledge but also reach out to the country. She and her Canadian teammates won the gold medals in the middle of a pandemic and were unable to celebrate in a traditional way.
Thank you so much to former #CANWNT goalkeeper and Olympic gold medalist @stephlabbe1 for a fantastic soccer clinic today. What a great learning experience for our #ChilliwackFC girls! ⚽️ @AbbSoccerAssn pic.twitter.com/kA5L5msvB4
— Chilliwack FC (@ChilliwackFC) June 8, 2022
“After we won our gold medals we weren’t really able to connect with the fans,” she said. “It was during the pandemic and not having fans in the stadiums, so I think for me it was an opportunity to take the medal across the country and interact with as many young kids as possible and try to inspire them. I really wanted to do that.”
Controversy has rocked the Canadian soccer world recently, with the men’s national team refusing to play a friendly match against Panama in Vancouver on Sunday (June 5). The five demands from the team include:
- changes at the top of Canada Soccer with greater room for former players among leadership positions;
- a more equitable pay structure with the women’s team;
- the development of a women’s domestic league;
- a 40 per cent cut of World Cup prize money and greater tournament perks for their families;
- and a review of a contentious agreement Canada Soccer made in 2019 that handed over much of the business affairs of the national teams to an outside group called Canada Soccer Business.
Labbe stated that she was unable legally to speak on the issues, but did say a women’s domestic league would be a tremendous boon for women’s soccer in Canada.
A statement from the Canadian Women’s National Team players: pic.twitter.com/JHqkm3iiXr
— CanadianSoccerPlayers (@PlayersCanadian) June 6, 2022
“It’s massively important, it has to happen in this country,” she said, noting she is not in favour of the NWSL expanding to Canada. “I’m definitely a big pusher of a domestic league. Having your own domestic league is so important for the growth and development of Canadians.”
She hopes that the next generation of players, like those who attend her camps, have an easier path to success and stardom in the sport than she did.
“We have the right people pushing in the right areas and there is only way to go – forward,” she said. “We need to provide more opportunities for these young kids to be inspired by homegrown talent and to see professional women’s soccer players in Canada playing day in and day out. It’s super important because if you don’t see it then you’re not going to be able to believe or dream. It’s really important we put that product in front of their eyes.”
She also praised the play of her former teammate and Abbotsford soccer legend Sophie Schmidt. Labbe played with Schmidt on both Olympic-medal winning teams.
“She was a leader on the team and one of the most experienced players for Canada for many years,” she said, of the W.J. Mouat grad. “Whether she’s on the field or off, she makes such an impact and always has good spirits and positive energy. She is a joy to be around.”
Labbe also believes she has walked away from the women’s national team leaving it better than she arrived and the young talent, like Chilliwack’s Jordyn Huitema and Vancouver’s Julia Grosso, will ensure the team remains strong.
“They’re so young and they already have gold medals,” she said. “That confidence and that belief that they will bring forward is so important. The majority of us didn’t even get that first medal  until our late-20s so to have these players actually have been there to lift it and win, they can pass on that confidence and experience for years to come.”
She also said that B.C. will continue to be a breeding ground for new talent because players can play outside for a greater part of the year.
Labbe heads to Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan later this month and then visits Atlantic Canada in July.
For more information, visit sportbrand.ca/steph-labbe-clinics.
Photos by: Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News