COVENTRY — Picture this: it is the State Championship game in the Catholic Athletic League’s (CAL) 4th and 5th grade Junior Soccer Division. Father John V. Doyle School is facing off against Immaculate Conception Catholic Regional School. After an intense 60 minute game, the score is tied 1-1. The game heads to a shootout. Five players on each team get an opportunity to vault their team to the state championship in the shootout but they are all denied. Finally, in round six of the shootout, the Father John V. Doyle squad scores to secure their State Championship title.
Father John V. Doyle School head soccer coach Brian LeClair reminisces fondly about winning that State Championship in 2017. This is the type of excitement the CAL offers children of all skill levels, but for LeClair it’s not even his favorite part. Thanks to him, the tight knit community at Father John V. Doyle School has bonded over the sport of soccer while watching their children succeed. That is what truly matters.
LeClair grew up in Burrillville, but didn’t play many sports as a kid. He wrestled in high school but never touched a soccer ball until his son started playing at five years old. “I have been coaching now for almost 11 years, and have coached every sport my sons have played,” LeClair said. “It’s my priority to see my kids succeed and have fun. Watching sports is a family affair for us.”
LeClair has been the head soccer coach at Father John V. Doyle School for the past six seasons and he treats the parents and other coaches in the CAL soccer league like his own family.
“My coaching philosophy is to make the league family oriented and make it a group effort,” LeClair said. “All the parents are pretty close at the school. We always find time at away games to go out and bond over the shared joy of seeing our kids have fun on the soccer field.”
LeClair emphasized how CAL helps kids build relationships. “At a couple of games in the past few years, I asked the opposing coach if he wanted to do a joint cookout after the game,” LeClair recalled. “After one game, we held a get together and the kids from both teams were hanging out like they had known each other forever, even though they had just met that day. That was one of best experience I ever had as a CAL coach.”
With the CAL being a family affair at its core, LeClair understands the importance of safety for his players. Every coach in the CAL is required to take the Safe Environment Training developed by the Diocese of Providence. This training teaches coaches and CAL volunteers about the importance of their role as mandatory reporters, how to recognize signs of abuse in children, and how to maintain proper boundaries. This Safe Environment Training is renewed every three years.
The Diocese of Providence also provides Safe Environment Training for all children enrolled in extracurricular programs such as the CAL, called the Circle of Grace program. It teaches children how to identify proper boundaries with adults and report them long before they become inappropriate.
“It was surprising going from coaching in town recreational leagues, which, only require background checks, to this enhanced step of taking a training course,” LeClair said. “It pinpoints what a coach should look for, and makes both children and parents feel safer. It is much more involved than the recreational league’s requirements.”
Despite being a relatively new coach and fan of soccer, LeClair has a strong appreciation for the sport he never played growing up. Being a wrestler in high school, he was always in the individual spotlight of a match whereas in soccer, “it is an all-out team sport.” Soccer requires a combination of multiple players to get a small edge on the opponent. This allows LeClair to fully reach his goal as a coach, making the soccer team fun and welcoming for all players, regardless of skill level, and makes the team practically family.