Football coach who used to be homeless says game saved his life

Living in a van at 18, Liston Bates still made it to every football practice


Program co-ordinator and MIFA head coach Liston Bates runs youth, women's, and men's flag and tackle football teams. He says he wants to share his knowledge and passion, and show that anyone can play the game. (Nicole Martin)

Football has always been a part of Liston Bates' life, but as a kid he didn't have the money or support from his family to get onto the gridiron. 

Bates says he had a very strained relationship with his father, who didn't understand his love of the game and pulled him off of the high school football team. At 18-years-old, Bates was homeless and living out of a van.

That didn't stop him from being involved in the game.

"I used to actually practice with a community team, I used to go out to their practice on a regular basis, but I couldn't afford to play. Actually Rob Ford funded a team and I travelled to Etobicoke and my football career started from there," Bates explained.

Some 15 years later, he's coaching on the same field he used to practice on. 

Bates is a program co-ordinator and head coach for the Mississauga Indoor Football Association (MIFA). He runs youth, women's and men's flag and tackle football.

Bates said he's not just sharing his passion for football, but also breaking barriers by showing that the game can, and should, be played by all. 

"It's ridiculous, like there's women that come here with their kids, and their kids I coach and then I'm turning around an hour later and coaching their mom. I have more young ladies playing flag football every year than I have young men. It's definitely not a men's sport, it's a sport for everyone," said Bates.

Kat Webster is a mother of five who likes to mix it up on the field. All five of her children play the sport and are coached by Bates.

"I have three younger ones, they're playing flag right now, and my older sons who are now 18, who previously played with him, are volunteering. So we're all a part of MIFA, and here I am now, finally a women's football team was created for us, so I am so happy that I finally get to play real football."

Bates says football saved him from what could have been a darker path and that coaching and sharing his passion gives him purpose.

"They don't realize they're my family, too. Sometimes [players] say, 'Coach, honestly do you have a life outside of here?'"

His passion for coaching is about more than just sharing his love of football, but about giving back to the community. For the past 10 years on Thanksgiving Monday, Bates holds what he calls the 'Turkey Bowl.' Local football families, semi-pro, and former players all come out to play football. Bates asks the participants to donate non-parishable food items for the local church.

"Why I do it is because a couple people stepped up and helped me out and helped me find my passion like Rob Ford and my chaplain at my high school," Bates told CBC Toronto. 

"I'm thankful that I can just express my passion and have other people absorb it. I want them to know that this sport is for everyone."


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