ST. JOHN’S, Canada— If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
That is the motto being adopted in the modern era of Canada Soccer, bringing with it a window of opportunity for youth standouts like Whitby, Ont., native Olivia Smith.
: ⚡️— FTF Canada (@FTFCanada__) November 20, 2020
Mindset, hardships and opportunities— 16 year-old, Olivia Smith explains her path to becoming the youngest woman to ever play for the Canadian Women’s National Team @GatoradeCanada #FTF #LeaveYourMark #FuelledByG pic.twitter.com/Rr7GltPhq2
At 15 years and 94 days old, Smith became the youngest Canadian, male or female, to suit up for their country when she featured as a substitute against Brazil at the Four Nations Tournament in November of 2019—an opportunity she suggests only comes with the national program’s newfound aphorism.
“There has always really been a barrier between age and the level that you can play at,” said Smith, forward for the women’s national team. “But hearing those words, it made me want to push even harder to make it (to the national squad) and knowing that I was actually able to accomplish that, it was amazing.”
While managers at the senior level seem as willing as ever to give young players a shot, high skill level, the right mentality, and hard work remain prerequisites for making it to the next level.
In the eyes of Brandon Frith, Smith’s coach with Super Rex Ontario—a program designed to create a clear path from the youth ranks to the women’s national team for elite young talent—the 2004-born attacker not only ticks all three boxes but also recognizes when her game is dropping below her own very high standards.
“First of all, she’s an incredible young individual—very determined, very goal-oriented,” said Frith. “She’s come to a place where her self-awareness is high, it even feels like she’s often able to correct herself and she’s really become a self-coach.”
Tonight at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt on TSN3 we rank the best Canadian women's players in the world right now.— TSN Soccer (@TSNSoccer) April 9, 2020
We asked Kenneth Heiner-Møller to name some players under 20 that won't be on the list tonight who might be in a few years, he hints that one might be in Toyko next summer. pic.twitter.com/JJa88MFuml
Long before Smith impressed coaches like Frith, it was clear to those closest to her that she had the potential to become something special early on.
With his daughter regularly playing up an age group or two on the pitch growing up, Sean Smith, Olivia’s father, was a driving force in the initial development of her game.
Once her demands exceeded what dad could successfully help with, Smith quickly realized he needed to step aside for the sake of Olivia’s future.
“We recognized that at a very young age that we had to have somebody else take over,” said Sean Smith of his daughter’s early success. “Olivia’s skill set at a young age was extremely high, so you have to swallow your pride sometimes, but I was always a believer that you find the best to help with each skill set.”
Born to Jamaican and Chilean-Peruvian parents, Smith believes her diverse background is a big part of the unique style she embodies on the field.
She attributes her offensive creativity to her mother’s South American roots and her determination and will to win to dad’s Jamaican influence.
Offering a unique blend of grit and grace, Frith believes players with backgrounds like Smith will become the new norm rather than an anomaly as Canada continues to develop its identity as a true soccer nation.
“Olivia is a fine example of all the hard work that coaches in the game have put in from all levels of the landscape to grow our nation as more of a football or soccer nation,” said Frith.
“We’re no longer just the hard-working nation. We continue to (maintain) our traditions, but I think Canada being a diverse culture, I think that really comes out within our style of play in the next generation, with players who are a lot more technical and tactical.”
The next opportunity to shine with the women’s national team could come later this month as the now 16-year-old hopes to crack the Canadian squad for the 2021 SheBelieves Cup kicking off down in Orlando. Their tournament opener comes on Feb. 18 against long-time rival and hosting nation, the United States.
While it would be easy for the average teenager to lose focus on the ‘here and now’ with so much opportunity for the future, Smith, again just 16 years old, remains adamant about taking things one step at a time.
“Right now, I just have short term goals: I’m looking forward to getting called into as many camps as I can to prepare with the women’s side, and hopefully, we can get some youth camps going on as well,” said Smith.
Despite already accomplishing so much at this stage of her career, Smith’s early success within the beautiful game is only the beginning according to Frith.
“She has a ton of talent, I think she has tons of potential, I don’t think she’s fulfilled that potential yet, and I cannot wait to see the day when she does fulfill it because she’s a bright future for Canadian soccer.”