I'd like to think that patience has always been one of my strengths as a coach and soccer educator. After more than 25 years at all levels from U6 to University, camps to North American youth championships I've often championed the cause of "give it time, put in the work and it will happen."
Admittedly not as catchy as "build it and they will come," but taking the long view has been more than fruitful both on and off the field more often and not.
Today though after taking a hard look at the latest update from Alex Chiet, the OSA Chief Technical Officer, on Ontario's implementation of the Long Term Player Development initiative I have to admit my patience is wearing thin.
Don't get me wrong there is way more good news than bad in the update including:
- A focus on developing players, not winning, at early youth levels.
- A new coaching curriculum to be unveiled within weeks.
- A focus on individual skills development with more identification opportunities at local and regional levels.
- A League structure to reflect development for U4 to U12 with less emphasis on winning.
- A move to a league and competition structure that is not about promotion and relegation for older youth players but centred on player development with a club focus based on standards.
- Establishment of L1 Youth League in Ontario.
"Our current pathway is so broken, confusing and fragmented that we can no longer avoid "the elephant in the room". we have to develop a pathway that not only makes sense for but is also in the true best interests of young players."
Then the head scratcher (or heart breaker) in the deal for me - "Based on our current plan, LTPD will be phased-in, starting in 2013, with the broader "roll-out" expected over the next 6 to 8 years."
So, I could be wrong but the way I read this is, if you an eight year old currently playing in Ontario you'll be ten by the time LTPD starts and assuming the "phasing in" starts with the youngest age group and adds a level each year after that you will be missed entirely by the LTPD and yet another generation will be lost to development. In fact even if your six and possibly younger you will not receive the full benefit of LTPD.
Really? Eight years to basically give 80% of coaches involved in coaching in this province the thing they want more than anything else, a simple tool - a curriculum - that helps them do a decent job and give the bulk of youth players a decent grounding in skills and instils in them a love of the game. Eight years...
A twitter exchange (not the perfect forum for complex discussions but certainly a timely one) with Jason DeVos a club technical director and someone who is doing more than most to effect change for the better on the game in this country revealed some of the thinking behind this slow phasing in - "It's not about starting with low standards and phasing them higher. It's about starting with high standards and phasing them in, starting with the youngest ages first."
The context being we need to educate and qualify coaches, that the process takes time - "Giving unqualified coaches a curriculum and expecting them to be 'elite' coaches won't work. Education is vitally important."
Very difficult to argue this (on twitter or anywhere) in fact impossible - education is vitally important. But understanding your "market" is pretty important too and the fact remains the vast majority of our coaches at the developmental level (U12 and younger) - are not certified, have no desire to become certified and frankly will more often walk away than spend a weekend becoming certified.
If the LTPD curriculum becomes yet another "closed document" available only to "certified" coaches who spend (or their club spends) more than $125 for OSA certification than once again the core of the people delivering the foundation of our youngest players will be missed and a huge opportunity lost.
Instead make the curriculum for the first two phases of the LTPD available online - make it simple to use, easy to understand with lesson plans to ease delivery - offer free three hour clinics to show people how to deliver the sessions and answer some basic questions and then move on. If the quality of the programming is good maybe you'll then hold on to the majority of these coaches after a couple of years instead of losing them and then and only then can you hope to gain the quantity of certified coaches you are looking for. Consider it a loss leader for the future of the game.
Do it today, not in 2013, do not wait until you have the right number of "certified" U4 and U6 coaches because I'm afraid as patient as I am that day may never come.