All credit goes to the Ottawa Sportspage. The original can be found here: LINK.

Alyssia Zupo and 5 Nepean OPDL teammates are now coaching like Lauren Alexander, their coach.

Growing up, Lauren Alexander never had a female soccer coach.

She didn’t get that opportunity until she came to Ottawa and played under Algonquin College assistant Andrea Torontow.

“Seeing her in that role, I was able to see myself,” she says.

Now a coach herself, Alexander and the rest of the Hotspurs organization are working to ensure all young female soccer players get to see themselves on the sidelines as well.

Alexander is one of eight coaches participating in the Ontario Soccer Association’s Female Mentorship Program. The program seeks to increase the number of active elite female coaches, who will in turn mentor and educate other coaches.

It is a nine-month commitment for participants, who must work toward their Provincial B and National B licences. Alexander is working toward her Provincial B qualifications, and so she plans and delivers mock practice sessions, attends workshops and has pre- and post-session discussions with head mentor coach Connie Marshall.

The Hotspurs are well-represented in the Mentorship Program; at the last workshop in Toronto, Nepean had three female coaches in attendance (Manel Oudjida, Alysha Bonnick and Alexander) – the most out of all Ottawa-area clubs.

“It’s important for young girls to have a strong female role model,” Alexander says. “Someone they can look up to and ask questions. Our challenges might have looked a bit different, but they can relate to my experiences, and vice versa. Who better to relate to the female game, the female body, the female mind, than someone who has walked the same steps?”

Beyond her own involvement, however, Alexander looks ahead to the broader implications for the sport.

“I think of it as a cycle,” she continues. “If I can inspire a handful of girls that coaching might be a good fit for them, I will have strengthened that cycle and continued to improve the female game.”

With that in mind, six players from the Hotspurs’ Ontario Player Development League under-14 girls’ group (Sophie Burt, Ryann Harrington, Alyssia Zupo, Tara Bullard, Paloma Politis and Vittoria Gallivan) are now helping Alexander coach the Hotspurs U4 and U5 teams.

Alexander says she is constantly surprised by their energy and maturity – not to mention their passion and knowledge for the game. Plus, she says, “Let’s face it – they’re way cooler than me in the eyes of a 5-year-old!”

While those six adolescent apprentices are cherished members of the Hotspurs family, they also represent a crossroads in female sport. Put simply, teenage girls are much more likely than their male counterparts to hang up their cleats, skates, or racquets.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls were leaving sports at six times the rate of boys by age 14. When it comes to soccer, Alexander speculates the difference may be that more teen boys can see themselves represented, whether that means in the MLS, the NASL, or related academies.

She feels young women can get those opportunities too, although it will take time. Regardless, she will continue to inspire her young players, just as coach Torontow inspired her long ago.