Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Those With the Most Column Space Win

The Canadian Soccer Association and their partner provincial associations are losing the battle for the attention of the masses who will have a huge influence on deciding the the success or failure of the implementation of the Long Term Player Development program.

The Winnipeg Sun, among other media, is in a running battle to make sure the status quo - no matter how unsuccessful it has been - remains in place.

Their claim to insight on this matter is most respondents to a Leger Marketing poll — 59% — agreed keeping score and standings should be done at all ages. No details to sample size or what the other questions were of course but their take is the masses are with us no matter how ill-informed they are.

The media is basically taking the stand that keeping standings and winning trophies is the primary factor in the development of quality players and the major objective in youth sport. The idea being that no one else in the world is doing this and that it is some left wing, granola crunching semi-socialist Canadian idea to turn our children into... I'm not sure what because obviously these people not coached children long term at any level successfully and probably still believe that drinking water during training is a sign of weakness.

Never mind that 30% of Canadian believe in ghosts, 20% believe aliens live among us and that 58% are more likely to believe in bigfoot than a politicians campaign promise... oh wait, scratch that last one. The point being polls are notoriously inaccurate let alone the best method to determine and design policy. Just ask the voters in Toronto.

Now for the facts.

No where in the proposed Long Term Player Development documents I have read does it say scores will not be kept. Even if it did say such a thing, this is nigh impossible as everyone involved in any game, parents, players, coaches and officials know what the score is. Even in non-organized sport (the near endangered species that it is) everyone keeps score.

The LTPD does call for no league standings and a jamboree format with an emphasis on fun at U6 - U9 and an organized schedule but no standings for the U9 - U12s. To point out the academy program in traditional soccer nation England, involving some of the world's major clubs, does not keep standings (or tables if you prefer) until, wait for it U18.

Again it is not about eliminating competition as the media mongers would like you to believe - it is about putting competition in perspective and ensuring our kids are learning the right things about their game at the right time. It's about developing the technical skills and the ABC's of movement (agility, balance and coordination) because it is has been left to organized sport to do so since this secondary role has been forfeited by our school system and interfered with by video games and computers.

The challenge for the associations, both national and federal, is they have no developed marketing and media strategy that targets the people with the most influence on the players and club decision makers - the parents. The OSA travelling roadshow is targeting the coaches which is of course vitally important in getting the message out but this misses the largest group that will ultimately accept or reject the plan.

The implementation of the LTPD, along with the further development of the professional game in Canada and the eventual qualification for the World Cup that will come with the improvement in our youth development programs are the most important thing for our associations to focus on and they need to scrimp, scavenge and find a way to ensure this gets done.

They to get the message out properly and clearly to everyone involved in the game. They need to partner with the MLS teams, media and corporate partners to get the message out in a way that everyone can understand and support. We need widespread dissemination of information during MLS broadcasts on radio and tv, print media (through both releases and advertising) and especially during soccer events where the people involved in all aspects of the game are gathered.

Obviously money is a factor but I believe the professional franchises and the people who run them understand the importance of this initiative and would welcome the chance to be associated with it if it was presented in the proper, professional fashion.

No executive of these franchises or soccer's current or future corporate sponsors (Bell, BMO etc.) would term down the chance to be affiliated with a grassroots effort to improve the development of our players and improve the sporting experience of our youth. But it needs to be done right and they would probably want creative control - a small price to pay - to get the message out to the masses.

A "new" soccer nation Australia has faced many of the same challenges we face and has done wonders in a very short time including delivering a national curriculum that has all of the factors of the LTPD and packaged it (PDF - 5.42 Mb) in a way that makes it readable, succinct and visionary - we could do worse than to follow suit.

If we do not the message will be lost to the noise of soccer bashers and sensationalist media that know how to get people's attention even if they care little about the sport itself.

Stand up, speak out or sit down and accept the status quo and another battle lost.

Bill Ault

PS - Finally enjoy what creativity in a corporate sponsorship and a national association can do in this ad from the AFF prior to the World Cup in South Africa.


  1. Anonymous3:48 PM

    Hi Paul,

    Good post. If you look at the pdf from the Football Federation of Australia that you have linked, the Wellness to World Cup does not give a clear framework for a curriculum as in depth as the Australian document does.

    Wellness identifies the issues but really does not cut a clear path as to how to overcome them. This is the problem- this document has been "underway" since 2005( I have an old copy from them with the Colin Linford opening remarks). It has barely evolved since then. Shame on us here in Canada for allowing this.

    Colin Elmes- TSS Academy

  2. Anonymous3:49 PM

    Sorry, that should have been "Hi Bill"

  3. Colin - you are correct about the Australian document. It is indeed a thing of beauty and simplicity in not just laying out a vision but identifying the steps needed to get there.


  4. Anonymous8:29 PM


  5. In response to the above.

    Just to underline it's not about keeping score - people as I've said are going to keep score no matter what. It's about putting the emphasis on the development of talent at U10 and U12 instead of putting the emphasis of development.

    No apologies I just wanted to know what the options were so in the world of polls over half the people surveyed were either undecided or thought keeping score could damage a child's self esteem... and we know all respondents were over 18 how? On the internet no one knows your a dog or a cat for that matter let alone how old you are.

    Seriously gentlemen, you too Mitch, it again is not about score keeping it's about development.

    We do a bad job of developing players - we have the same number of soccer players as the Netherlands - guess who develops more talent? Oh and by the way they don't emphasize winning at U10 their either.

  6. Addendum to the response:

    Just for reference here is one study of many on youth sports and competition including a good reference list of about another 40 for future reference and debate.


    Thanks again for the space;


  7. No 11-a-side in Spain until U-16. But what do those Spaniards know about football?

    No 11-a-side in Holland until U13-14... and focus on Coerver skills from age 5 or 6. But what do the Dutch know about football?

    Futsal and skills learning right thru the teens in Brazil. But what do the Brazilians know about football?

    In the late 90s, I was in an international coaching chat room. I was asked to describe our youth-development scene. When I finished, a German coach said "In my country, you would be charged with child abuse!"

    Says it all.