By Ottawa Sportspage, for Louis-Riel Rebelles
For the Louis-Riel Soccer Academy, enriching cultural experiences are as essential a part of the program as cleats and soccer balls.
Five Louis-Riel high school students are currently living that philosophy to the fullest – Xavié Fournier, Hussein Baroudi, Adrien Barthelus, Anton Favre and Anastasio Kanellos are all in Spain to take part in the FC Barcelona World Cup or the Mediterranean International Cup, featuring academy teams from across the globe.
“It’s incredible,” says program director Joé Fournier, who attended the same event 2 years ago and was blown away by the level of play, professionalism and facilities (the tournament takes place at La Masia, FCB’s official training grounds).
“It’s pretty impressive to be in that environment, and it’s just an amazing city, amazing architecture too. A friend told me that visiting Barcelona first is a mistake, because then you’ll be disappointed by all the other European cities,” adds the coach of nearly 30 years. “And just the culture overall – everyone there is breathing soccer. Everywhere in the street kids are playing soccer. It’s unbelievable.”
The Louis-Riel quintet will join players from elsewhere in Canada as well as other international locales served by BCN Sports, a group licenced to deliver Barça Academy programs. Home to a high-performance soccer program since 2005, Louis-Riel formally launched the school’s academy in 2016 at the same time as the Barça Academy Ottawa setup shop at the Dome LR.
“The partnership is pretty unique,” notes Fournier. “It’s pretty awesome for the kids to have that direct link to one of the top-3 teams, easily, in the world.”
Back at home, the boys’ and girls’ Rebelles school teams are preparing to compete in June’s OFSAA Championships. They hosted 3 dozen teams for a pre-season tournament at the Dome LR in March, and will travel for events in Kingston and Quebec this spring as well.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll do fairly well,” signals Fournier. “The kids have been training all season and the chemistry is coming along.”
Performance in competition is secondary to the program’s player development objectives in daily training, which takes place during regular school hours as part of Louis-Riel’s innovative sports-study program. Every on-field training session takes place under the watch of a coach trained in the Barça system, plus Fournier, renowned local goalkeeper coach David Bellemare, a mental performance coach and teachers, making the player-coach ratio below 5:1.
“I’m very happy with how we’re progressing,” highlights Fournier, whose soccer program continues to grow, with a large influx of students as young as Grade 7 transferring over from other schools. “To see the mentality of the kids and the way they approach the game – it’s less about being the stronger, the faster, the bigger, and it’s more about understanding the game, playing the game in a positive way, having the ball and keeping possession in all three thirds of the field, and being the protagonist who dictates the play.”
Learning away from the field is a key program pillar too. Recently, Fournier contacted the Hollywood-based producer of a documentary that interviewed Wayne Gretzky, Pelé and Jerry Rice and had them send the film to Landmark Cinemas to give Louis-Riel student-athletes an exclusive local screening of In Search of Greatness.
“If you want to grow, you need to learn from the best: the best athletes, coaches, sports psychs, teachers, fitness trainers – everyone,” explains Fournier. “And it was great that the messages those athletes gave matched what we try to tell them – be passionate, enjoy the game, and don’t only play structured activities. You need to be having fun when you’re doing it.”
2 LR grads on Team Canada
A pair of recent Louis-Riel soccer graduates are on the path to greatness themselves. Ottawa’s only two players on the senior national teams, Jonathan David became the youngest player to ever score for the Canadian men’s team when he made his debut last year at age 18, and Vanessa Gilles – a 22-year-old who only started playing soccer in Grade 10 after switching sports from tennis – has recently been called in to her first two Team Canada camps in the lead-up to this June’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“We aspire to give every kid the chance to achieve what they want to achieve,” Fournier underlines. “It’s not realistic to put every kid on the national team, I won’t promise that to anyone. But Jonathan’s and Vanessa’s objective was to make it on the national team, so it’s very exciting for us to see them achieve those goals.”