From S. Jones Postmedia
Rhian Wilkinson knows the value of good coaching. After all, without it, the Canadian Women’s National Team defender likely wouldn’t be about to head to Rio for her third appearance in a Summer Olympic Games.
Rhian Wilkinson made an evening visit to Sherwood Park on Wednesday 22nd June 2016 evening to recognize local coach Ryley Speers.He is one of two coaches, nationwide, singled out by Soccer Canada sponsor Allstate Insurance for his outstanding approach to coaching.
And, while the veteran National Women’s team player was here, Rhian waited to run a warm-up and practice with Speer’s team of seven- and eight-year-old girls on the Sherwood Park District Soccer Association’s Blue Huskies squad. Then Rhian waited to watch them play a game and afterwards conducted an autograph session.
“This is where dreams start, on days like this, on fields like this, with friends like this,” said Wilkinson.” At five years of age, I was playing for my local team “The Strawberries.” and I am still good friends with many of the Strawberries girls. Their friendship, and the fun we had with our coaches, is why I kept playing. I played many different sports, but I stayed with soccer. I had dedicated coaches who encouraged us to make friends, to try things and to enjoy the experiences which we had as a team.
“Coaches don’t often get much recognition, so I am delighted to be part of this AllState initiative to recognize coaches like Ryley Speers today.The gesture means a lot to me as Allstate has arranged for me to come here to thank Ryley personally for what he does, and how much he gives to these young players every day.”
“I’m here to thank Ryley specifically, but I would like to thank all coaches who volunteer their time and make such a commitment to both the sport and to the athletes who play it. Like the coaches, working with children is the best part of my job.”
Sherwood Park Allstate agency manager Patrick Cole said that they had people out to witness coaches during a number of tournaments and that Speers really stood out, to the point that he was chosen ahead of thousands of other coaches.
“He was passionate about what he was doing and had such positive feedback for the girls,” he said. “He did really good drills with them during practice and was great during the games. He just really stood out. We had people looking at coaches throughout the province and the country. He did such a great job that he stood apart.”
Speers, who has only been coaching soccer for four years, and also has Atom football and high school credits on his coaching resume, was stunned to find out he had been chosen from such a long list.
“When I was first contacted, I asked,’Why me?’ ” he said. “They said it was all about the love of the game and the fun the players were having and some of the direction I was giving.”
“This honour was a big surprise and a big thrill for me and the girls. This is all very exciting and the girls are so excited and the parents too. It’s a great opportunity to have someone of Rhian’s caliber to work with them. It’s an extreme honour.”
“With youth in general, coaching is about making the game fun, making sure they have a good time on the field and developing a love for the game. That will translate into their performance and will dictate whether they will continue with the sport or not.My job as a coach is just to make sure they are loving being out there, but still having development opportunities, as well.”
The 2016 Rio Olympic games will be the third Olympic Games for Rhian Wilkinson. Her first was in Beijing and the second in London where the team won a bronze medal. Of course, the 34-year-old is hoping for another medal this time around in what may be her final appearance at an Olympics.
“It never gets old, going to an Olympics,” Wilkinson said. “I was as excited yesterday when the team was announced as I was going to Beijing. Going to the Olympics and having the honour of wearing that national team jersey is a dream come true. When we won the bronze in London, the result was unexpected . However, I think we’ve now shown the world that our success is not a fluke. We have some amazing talent coming through. Our young players are incredible and they are fun to play with. We look forward to improving on that bronze.”