Where to Start?

Canadian Youth Soccer and its (Many) Challenges

As the summer soccer season rolls to a conclusion across most of the country (it’s just getting started for our friends on the far coast) the usual angst with the state of the game, player development and politics have risen and Canadian soccer’s annual bout of navel gazing has started in earnest.

Any number of issues at all levels of the game percolate as clubs, big, small, amateur and pro look to make annual changes on and off the field in their annual deck chair shuffling of board members, coaching staffs and administrators.

Among the much debated topics of concern (in no particular order):

  • The implementation of LTPD by clubs far and wide
  • The importance or over emphasis at winning at the youth level.
  • The application of standards to coaches and clubs.
  • The so called “pyramid” of play.
  • Promotion and relegation in youth soccer.
  • The relationship between life long play and competitive development.
  • The amalgamation or absorption of smaller clubs into larger ones.
  • add your own item here.
Needless to say complex issues without simple solutions and the question becomes: Where to Start?

Well why not with the “pyramid” of play which in Ontario as closely resembles a pyramid as a triangle does a circle. The soccer pyramid in Canada is more akin to a millipede with a hundred legs (no it’s not a centipede – look it up) and a couple of arms vaguely pointing in the direction of the sky in the hopes that some will see the vague signs and find their way to the top. It’s a mess.

What we have is multiple leagues with multiple levels of jurisdiction and multiple layers of administrators responsible for the operation of these leagues and collection of revenues from players in said leagues. Small matter of conflict of interest there but it is a system that developed almost directly due to the long standing Canadian soccer tradition of registering as many players as possible in hopes of being Canada’s most popular game.  We won the race for popularity long ago but should instead have been focusing on quality not quantity in a race to be the best run game. We’re not doing so well in that race.

Directly or indirectly this “big is better” theme is now trickling (pouring?) down to the club level where in the pursuit of relevancy and revenues club amalgamation and absorption, either forced or voluntary, is happening at an ever increasing pace. While the big approach has obvious benefits such as economy of scale and (sometimes) an increase in professionalism it also has drawbacks as players become little more than pawns in a game of political chess as clubs strive for dominance on the field and in the boardroom.

Another spin-off of this muddled morass is the inclusion of promotion and relegation at ALL levels of youth soccer in Ontario. While proponents will preach the virtues of “survival of the fittest” what it has really meant for years is that recruitment has trumped development and winning at almost any cost while never admitted to is the modus operandi for too many coaches and clubs.

It has meant mass player, coach and parent movement between teams, clubs and leagues in the never ending search for the fool’s gold of championships and medals at ever decreasing ages. This movement is a huge resource drain as clubs are continually faced with rebuilding coaching staffs, teams and volunteer pools as the annual migration set off by the end of the playing season rolls around like a nightmarish merry go round that never stops.

The over-emphasis on winning on younger ages has effectively hijacked discussion on implementation of the Long Term Player Development program as people focus on the most minor of LTPD guidelines that standings and scores not be kept at younger age levels.

What, more importantly, is not being discussed is the actual Physical Literacy and Soccer Specific Technical content.  Most sane people would not argue that a age appropriate activity focused curriculum is a bad thing but they will, a little less sanely often ramble on about whether it matters that the U10s have standings kept and published for the world to see.

This “red-herring” diversionary argument about winning is doing is slowing the acceptance and implementation of LTPD as club personnel struggle to inform, educate and ultimately win over their consumer base. It is happening but progress is being slowed needlessly and precious resources wasted on a spurious argument mostly raised by headline seeking media or people that won’t buy into LTPD at any level.

So again: Where to start?

Next: Begin at the Beginning