Hard work, perseverance key to Manitoba’s 19U male soccer team success

As Manitoba’s 19U male soccer team vies for gold, the hard work the players have put in is paying off. It’s no secret hard work leads to success in all walks of life, and that statement could not be truer for Manitoba soccer player Devon Evans.

“I’ve been training by myself for the past two years. I had to teach my cousin how to play and he’s been helping me, that’s why I’m here because I learned about this and I knew I had to get better,” Evans said.

Evans, from Norway House Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, has had to work extra hard to make the 19 and under team.

“So, I was waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning every day practicing, and then after that eat and all that, do everything, and then practice again at four or five. So, I worked really hard to be here, to be on this team.”

His drive for wanting to be on this team comes from a place of wanting to test himself.

“I’ve never played soccer in a league like this and I wanted to be here and I know I’m really good, I’ve been working to become very good. I know everyone else here has been the same so…I want to see what’s up, see what I can do, see how good I can do here,” Evans said.

Evans said that even though he has been putting in hard work, it was still a surprise to see that his name was on the list for the North American Indigenous Games.

U19 male soccer at the North American Indigenous Games. Photo: Darrell Stranger/APTN

“When I saw my name on that list I was in shock, I was just looking at it and I was like my name’s there because it was exciting and then my papa saw it too and then he came to show me and I was like I saw that and I was like on the team. I got really excited. I was scared if my name wasn’t on the list or if it was on there.”

Team Manitoba coach Gary Swanson says Evans is as much a great person as he is a soccer player.

“He’s a great human being and I told him that. We’ve had team meetings, or individual meetings and I think he’s going to be a fantastic leader one day. And I told him just stay on the track you’re on because the world’s open to you,” Swanson said.

Evans isn’t the only one with a unique story.

Kenton Davis is part of the Manitoba squad seeking gold, and he’s balancing nursing school with his soccer training and game schedule.

“I came here about a year ago to try out for soccer and I actually made it, and the same year I went to apply for nursing at the U of M and I got into that one too so yea it’s kind of cool to be playing soccer and be going into nursing the following year,” said Davis, who is from the Ebb and Flow First Nation in Manitoba.

“This past month I’ve been going back and forth to university to plan my courses, and I also practice my soccer so I’ve been like trying to play at home.”

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Swanson says the schooling combined with soccer shows the type of character Davis has.

“Kenton is a very intelligent young man. He’s graduated from high school and he got into nursing right away and that really speaks to where he wants to go. He had a family member in nursing and so he wanted to follow in that career path to get in from high school into nursing is amazing because usually you have to have your years of prep in university and he got in right away that just shows you what a unique young man he is,” Swanson said.

Davis said he knew pretty young that he wanted to be a nurse.

“My godmother is a nurse and so I thought hey I want to become a nurse too. I think by grade six I was pretty set onto that, becoming a nurse. I just focus on my classes and getting good grades,” Davis said.

Culture helps the team bond

For the team, having aspects of culture is important for team bonding.

“We went to Thunderbird house in Winnipeg and we did a circle there and we just shared stories about ourselves. Some of it was pretty hilarious and some of it was pretty serious stuff and we learned about each other and that’s really important because once you know a little bit about who we are as people it translates into the team itself,” explained Swanson.

For Evans, the cultural aspect has been a welcome addition and a chance to learn more about his culture.

“I don’t know much about my own culture but I’ve been trying to learn it the past few years. Like these guys, we were doing smudging before we came here in Halifax, and then we were doing another thing like [a] sharing circle,” Evans said.

For both Evans and Davis, hard work is a key aspect of making any team.

“Working hard is everything, but if you don’t know how to work smart, working hard is not going to help that much,” Evans said.

“I think if you have fun and play your best, you’re probably going to make it,” Davis said.

For coach Swanson, team bonding was a challenge given that the team comes from a variety of home communities.

“This team has come together and it’s so difficult because they are from all over Manitoba, and there’s some struggles with that right and we did some work in Winnipeg in our last couple days of prep to come to NAIG and we really worked on our team functioning and how we relate to one another. They really bonded, they really came together,” Swanson said.

In the future, Evans might try looking at making a move to the big city to further his development.

“There’s clubs in Winnipeg which I just learned that this year, so I was thinking whoa it would be cool if I could move to Winnipeg and go on a club or something because I need to get better, to get better to go further and further because I can’t just get better, well I can but there’s only so much I can learn by myself,” he said.

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