Rob Jonas - Founder of VanIsle Walking Soccer
Rob Jonas is the founder of Canada's first Walking Soccer program established in 2016 in Parksville, British Columbia. Rob took a couple minutes out of his day to speak with us.
On his introduction to walking soccer…
Well, in late 2015, I became the President of a Vancouver Island group called PGOSA, which is the Parksville Golden Oldies Sports Association, the largest sporting association in Central Vancouver Island.
As I was getting my feet wet, a couple of my members of English heritage came up to me and asked me if I'd heard about this new sport that was booming in England and called “Walking Football”. And no, I had not. So we looked into it and I started our first session in March of 2016. We had eight players. It was a bit of a go and we phoned around, did some searching online and whatnot, that's how we got started. That was almost exactly 8 years ago.
On how he would describe himself as a player and an organizer…
Well, I had never actually played organized soccer before this opportunity arose. But, like I said, stepping into the role of
President of PGOSA, exposed me to lots of different opportunities including Walking Soccer. And now, with seven years behind us, there's no stopping us now.
We've just held our 4th Provincial Invitational Tournament. We're getting some community sponsorship. Teams are coming from the provincial mainland, southern Vancouver Island. It's just booming like crazy.
On what the most fun part of walking soccer is..
I'd say that it's an amalgam of three things. One is it's a bit of a light aerobic workout and you can move up and down the pitch at your comfort, so if you want to go forward and come back, you'll get more of a workout than if you just hover around midfield, but that's up to the individual. It is a fairly consistent group so there is a social side. People teasing each other and camaraderie.
Also here through the winter and the fall, it's great to have an indoor facility where we can play out of the elements and a consistent playing surface. Then we have a beautiful Community Park here in Parksville and we have access to that park twice a week through the spring and summer.
So, great exercise, during the good weather we're outdoors, during the bad weather we're indoors. A very familiar group of people. So all of those things add value to the experience.
On what he thinks makes walking soccer a good choice for new players..
It's hard not to be enthusiastic about a sport like Walking Soccer because there's a growing demographic of seniors, 55 plus, and
I'm sure that's probably true all across Canada.
This is an ideal sport for them because you get people who are aging out and just can't keep up with the young people or the younger people, people with recovering life issues such as hip, knee, back injuries etc.
I've got some really good players, I've got some people who are still getting back into regular walking after hip replacements or knee replacements. You know, it's really good for the people who don't have maybe access to other [sports] because of age
or health limitations.
It [is] attractive to the coeds and also inexperienced or aging out players. You know, I never played soccer before I got involved here and you don't have to be a pro, but what's interesting about the group is we have some really good players and they've got the smell of how this is working and we have some new players that are, you know, in their 70s, men and women, and you'll see the good players that that are coaching them as they go along. They’re feeding them the ball, even when they could probably score on their own. So it's a real good level of intermingling of all different skill levels.
On what walking soccer means to him…
That's a situation that's evolved with time. When I first was asked about it, I had no clue. I have to be honest, I'd never heard of it. I was not a soccer player prior to that. So like any other relationship, it evolved over time. It started off as something, and then I took it to heart because I could see that it was being met with enthusiasm. And then keeping in touch with it, mostly by YouTube, checking it out and seeing that it's spreading around, especially Europe. I could see that it was a good fit for our group, so those kinds of things helped strengthen my drive to move it forward and now it's developed its own energy and I'm happy to continue to organize it and watch it grow.
On his community of players…
The people I have are very committed. There’s moderate incremental growth every year, but it's quite a lot of the same people and that's because, speaking generally, in a huge sports community like Central Vancouver Island and Vancouver Island in its entirety, the competitive people and players have so much more opportunity to participate than the relaxed group does.
I found that out, a year ago (2022) as a specific example, when I opened up my third Annual Tournament to both Competitive and Relaxed tiers of play. We had half the arena for the Competitive side and then we had one pitch open for the Relaxed tier of players. We had one
Relaxed team from Victoria that come up and my Relaxed team. They played two or three games and then they just packed it in. This year, I've got as many relaxed level teams coming as competitive. So the arena split in half, we've got 4 pitches and they're going to be going nonstop all day. And so that growth, just as I mentioned earlier, significant growth has been on the relaxed tier of play and I think that the overall sport is going to continue to grow, percentage wise, more on the Relaxed level of play than on the Competitive side.
On what he would say to newcomers to walking soccer…
Don't be afraid, first of all, I'd never played soccer and I'm 70 now. I have a riot every time I go out playing. No experience really necessary. I mean, if you're not able to walk, that might be an issue. I've got one fella, he’s 83 with a list of injuries etc, just plays goal for us. We're a friendly group. We don't nail shots from 5 yards away to kill people. I would say to somebody, just get a pair of sneakers or some low profile cleats and come on out and give it a try. Or just go out and watch the game and see if it works for you. There's tons of laughing and there's people you know, teasing each other all the time, at least in my group.
Experience isn't really necessary. There's all skill levels but our general year-round play welcomes all skill levels, all abilities, all experience levels, men, women, big, tall, strong, small. Come on out and try it. It's a really nice light workout. Nothing to be afraid of except having a good time.