LTPD: Making Headlines for the Wrong Reasons

Once again a media outlet in Canada has brought up the issue of how soccer is “banning” winning under the new Long Term Player Development plan that the Canadian Soccer Association is attempting to implement across the country.

Besides simply regurgitating arguments that have been already been made it is obvious from the article the CSA still has plenty of work to do not just with the folks outside of the soccer world but with the very people who are supposed to helping to deliver the message and implement the plan.

This time the LTPD gets column space in Ottawa through a Ron Corbett article in the Sun describing how the local district league has decided not to award medals to divisional champions. Mr. Corbett has decided that this policy says that, “achievement is now something you should be ashamed of, something you should hide from other people and ignore if at all possible.”   More of the solid headline making and sure to get a reaction material that has surfaced across the country (Tom Brodbeck brought this up in a Winnipeg Sun blog way back in February which led to my original article addressing this topic).

My point then was the CSA and other soccer governing bodies had to work much harder at getting the message out to the general public about what the LTPD was all about, how it was going to be implemented and most importantly what it was going to do to improve the state of the game in this country. What I may not have emphasized enough was how much work the CSA had to do within the game as well with the leaders it expected to aid in the process.

According to Mr. Corbett – “This past season, scores and standings were outright banned for all soccer players in the association under the age of nine. It will be raised to 10 next year, and 11 the year after. Before long, you will have to be 12 years old before you are allowed to win a soccer game in Ottawa.”

No where in the LTPD does it say that scores are not to be kept or that teams will not be able to win games – it would be impossible to implement or enforce such a policy even if one wanted to as everyone who attends a game be they player, coach, parent or referee certainly knows what the score is and who won at the end.

The point of not keeping standings at these younger ages is to de-emphasize the winning at all costs mentality that has entered the game and focus more on development – nothing more, nothing less. If the league structure would also eliminate promotion and relegation for the younger players this too would be beneficial for development but that is an another debate for another day.

I don’t expect people outside of the player development pyramid to understand or even care but the one thing I can assure them the LTPD is not? It is not some communistic plot born of the 1950s cold war meant to mollify the masses and turn them into some sort of non-competitive non-thinking zombies (we have a school system for that) as Mr. Corbett and his ilk like to think.

No, the most troubling thing in the article is not the comments from a headline searching Sun writer, that I expect, what is troubling is the comments from the soccer people quoted in the article. Not because the comments themselves are wrong or even misplaced but they do show how far we have to go to even get all the soccer people on the same page in this country when it comes to implementation of this program.

“Honestly, this is what the experts are telling us to do,” says Wayne MacDougall, president of the Eastern Ontario District Soccer Association. “We don’t set the policy, we just implement it.”

In other words don’t shoot the messenger we’re just doing what we are told.

Never mind that for the first time in history a district body is just blindly following the direction of the national association in Canada but the fact that there is really no attempt to explain the purpose or defend the LTPD by MacDougall other than, “It’s all part of the long-term athlete development plan that Sports Canada and the Canadian Soccer Association is putting into place,” says MacDougall. “We want to put more emphasis on development, and less on winning.”

Bill Michalopulos president of the 6,300 member Ottawa South United Soccer Club adds to the mixed message, “We don’t live in some Utopian world where there’s no winners or losers Kids have been getting medals and trophies for as long as there’s been organized sports. Now all of a sudden that’s wrong?”

The answer is – no it’s not but making the sole emphasis of a program for players ages 8 to 11 is.  What the LTPD is attempting to do is reset the balance a bit between winning and development put a little more emphasis on one over the other.

Both Michalopulos and MacDougall are long serving in their positions and have done yeoman’s work in making the sport bigger and better in the Ottawa area and to my knowledge are firmly in favour of player development and their efforts certainly deserve better light than the Sun’s article cast on them – intentionally or not.

But it does beg the question of our national or provincial associations – Have we even bothered or attempted to help  club and district leaders understand the issues in implementation and educate them on dealing with the media in these situations regarding the LTPD?  It seems not and once more shows we have many miles to travel if this task is to be completed.