The FIFA Women’s World Cup has come and gone from our city. But well before the fans and players put soccer in the spotlight, a group of Winnipeggers had been working hard to put our city on the sport’s international map. I’m one of them.
Four years ago, Mike Morton, Simon Collins and I started United Soccer Tours (UST), when we took a group of 11-year-old boys on a tour of England to experience soccer in a country where the sport is a major part of the culture. We believed, back then, we needed something different in Winnipeg and sought out opportunities to bring international exposure to our Winnipeg players.
But, for me, the story goes back even further.
My parents were immigrants who came to this city for a brighter future and to start a family. Their belief: in order to make a difference, you have to be the difference. One must give and expect nothing in return. That’s what coaching soccer means to me.
Mike, Simon and I share a passion: to be part of everyone else’s success, to be the reason our youth continue to play soccer and to believe in themselves.
Our vision was to provide a balanced path of soccer and post-secondary education for local soccer talent. For the past four years, UST has offered elite soccer camps in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Regina.
We felt that our city’s soccer community needed leadership. I was frustrated by community club soccer and working with boards that didn’t share my vision that soccer can be a way to teach youth the value of family, leadership, philanthropy and love.
Through UST, we wanted to create an opportunity for our youth to experience the world beyond the Perimeter, and to instill in them a love for our city. We loved to coach soccer. We wanted to build a team in Winnipeg but we need our players to leave, learn, and then return.
Our business plan was to give back to the community by donating thousands of hours to coaching. We hoped our actions would inspire the players we coach to embrace soccer as so much more than a game that happens on the field.
While only a third of our ownership calls Winnipeg home, Mike and Simon have returned to Winnipeg from the UK twice a year to invest their time in our youth soccer players. From our small beginnings as a private coaching company, UST Academy has now been acquired by a larger, international coaching company from the UK, called i2i Sports.
I2i Sports shares our vision of inspiring youth. The acquisition provides us with the resources to give our players yet another pathway, one that hopefully returns them back to Winnipeg to carry on the tradition we’ve started.
A true leader will not wait for action. A leader creates action. Not everyone supported the idea of UST. Many people tried to talk us out of it. It only made us want to do it more. And, I believe that, today, our youth are better for it.