Friday, March 11, 2011

The Maturation of Canadian Soccer

Things are moving quickly now for Canadian soccer - on and off the field. The signs of change and shift are everywhere around us from the highest administrative levels right down to the local youth scene and all signs point to a maturation of the game here in Canada.

The importance of expected governance changes, the awarding of world cups, development of professional clubs and building and expansion(!) of facilities across the country cannot be underestimated but subtly and sometimes not so subtly, something even more exciting for the future is beginning to happen at the grassroots levels - the professionalism of the game.

The changes have been ongoing, subtle and sometimes swift depending on location and maturity of the local game and strength of local leadership. Changes taking hold as youth clubs professionalize and sometimes streamline their organizations adding paid general managers, administrators and technical directors to their staffs and have started running things on a much more business based basis. Five year plans, budget projections and thinking beyond the upcoming season are becoming the norm not the exception at clubs as paid employees put their talents and expertise to work.

Along with this approach often, at least recently, comes the linking of professional and semi-professional clubs to youth clubs. These arrangements range from complete integration to "technical partnerships" to loosely arranged agreements that basically are in place to provide the "pros" with access to a potential pipeline of talent for the future.

Does this sound familiar? It should because this is how the rest of the world does it and has so for years. Maybe, just maybe, we ready to realize they've had it right all these years and we were kind of making it up as we went along.

It's been fascinating study to watch Canadian youth soccer from both the inside as an administrator, technical director, coach and parent and the outside as a fan, observer and writer over the last 30 years. Fascinating but maddening as time and time again we've ignored the rest of the world (as far as structure goes at least) and continued to go our own merry way obviously thinking we knew something the rest of the world did not when it came to football - the world's game.

This despite our total inability to produce truly elite level talent in a systematic way (granted there have been individual and local change and successes). We have continued to do things basically the same way for the past three generations of players somehow expecting different results despite the fact that no where else, outside of North America, did the model of development entail the separation of the professional game and development of players. Quite the opposite in fact.

Obviously the rest of the world had it wrong and we were right. Not.

There is a reason the rest of the world does things this way and has for a number of years. It works and finally we seem to be paying attention and the signs are there that player development and professionalism are coming together on many if not all fronts for the game in Canada. This is a good, no great, development for the game and our players in this country.

Players will begin to not just see but understand and participate in a pathway of development that makes sense and inspires as well as provides a reward for effort and their passion for the game.

Finally there will a true pyramid of play not a topless one that, in most cases, led no where but out of the game. A true top to the pyramid with growing and natural links between the youth, senior and the "non-amateur" levels of the game.

Obviously there will be challenges, mistakes and stumbles but is that really that much different than the way things are now and have been for the past thirty years of wandering in the wilderness? At least these developments offer a different map and choice of direction.

Conflicts will arise in organizations as people have expectations placed upon them by employers who may or may not be ready for the additional responsibility (and a responsibility it is) of guiding, nurturing and ultimately rewarding or releasing these people.

The recreational elements of the game will be concerned that they are being left out or unfairly being burdened with the costs (they should not be and most cases are not) of developing the competitive side. (This furthers the argument that perhaps it is time for a separation of these two elements within the game but that is fodder for another article.)

Despite these "costs" the rewards will ultimately more than make up for this change in approach to the development of our best players and the long term development of the game.

Perhaps we truly are finally growing up as a soccer nation.

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