Vancouver teens get a kick competing for soccer club, learning about each other (with video)

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Marpole Phoenix

Soccer coach Susan Dhillon and technical director Dino Anastopulos pose with their team, the Marpole Phoenix, on Feb. 3, 2013 after practice at Vancouver’s Memorial Park. Ward Perrin/PNG

The majority of the U13 girls on Marpole Phoenix are Indo-Canadian, but that doesn’t make them a South Asian team — they’re culturally diverse.

“A team could be predominantly Indo-Canadian, but that’s not what our club is about,” said Marpole Soccer Club president, Susan Dhillon. “It’s not just about one culture — it’s about all — and they need to embrace that. We celebrate everything here.”

Although Indo-Canadian girls make up about 70 per cent of the team, all cultures are acknowledged. Dhillon hopes to plan a team party for the upcoming Chinese New Year.

“(We want to know) what’s important with you or what’s going on with you and in your culture and promote it to the whole team,” said Dhillon. “I understand a lot of cultures want to promote within, but real society isn’t like that.”

“(They need to) learn to get along with one another because the society they live in isn’t just an Indo-Canadian society.”

According to technical director Dino Anastopulos, Indo-Canadian girls made up nearly 90 per cent of the Vancouver-based team two years ago, with many players and families drawing from nearby temple communities.

“It probably maybe did not look inviting for others to come in,” said Anastopulos.

But over the past couple of years they’ve become much more culturally diverse.

“We’re trying to open that up to everybody in the community, so it’s not just an Indo-Canadian club,” he said.

And the demographics certainly have changed.

“We’re seeing a lot more cultural diversity with families coming into the club,” he said. “It represents a lot of our city more.

“(And) through sport is one of the best teachers to learn about others.”

Culturally diverse teams help promote tolerance and understanding of other cultures, which even stems beyond the field, because the girls develop friendships and go to each others’ homes, said Anastopulos.

“This is a team sport so they all need to count on each other, cooperate with each other and within that understand each other,” he said. “Then you start to understand the other person across from you really isn’t that different from you.

“Sport is a binding entity of all of us and through sport we can be tolerant.”

Through this learning curve Dhillon has received a lot of positive feedback from parents.

“They’re happy, they promote it now,” she said. “I like exposing them to the mix, but at the same time you do have some Indo-Canadians that are kind of set in their way.”

For example, some girls may not be allowed on team trips because their parents don’t want them staying somewhere overnight.

“I’m an Indo-Canadian female myself, I’m hoping maybe with me their parents will be a little more open,” said Dhillon. “(But) what more can we ask for? We can’t really push it.”

But according to Anastopulos, most of the barriers for these young women were broken down in the early 90s.

“I don’t remember in my time too many female Indo-Canadian girls playing,” he said. “(But) those barriers aren’t as evident any more.

“We’re at this day and age with these girls where their dads are out encouraging them and their mothers are out.”

Anastopulos sees this as a “significant sign” that parents are encouraging their children to partake in team sports and ethnically diverse environments.

“This is where the sport has played a positive role even within the home,” he said.

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