Thursday, April 05, 2012


CanadaKicks is returning.

Took a while to sort out what the site would become after 16 years of providing news, views and mostly opinion about the state of the game in Canada but after some thought, conversations with a few key people and a lot of caffeine it has been decided that the one area of discussion that currently does not have a real central on line "destination" in Canada is coaching.

These are important and exciting times for the coaches of the game in Canada what with the introduction of LTPD into the coaching lexicon, the amalgamation of clubs into "super" clubs, the ongoing growth of professional opportunities and development not to mention increased expectations for coaches across the country there is plenty to discuss.

Over the decade and a half CanadaKicks pushed bits on to the web things changed - a lot (CanadaKicks circa January 1999 courtesy of - from a text based with small graphics reading experience to the multimedia extravaganza it is today.  The hope is that with video, audio, visual and yes text CanadaKicks V3.0 will provide Canadian coaches with an on line destination of they will be proud to call their own.

The aim?  To engage coaches at all levels in meaningful discussion, while providing information as well as entertainment for the thousands of people in this country who walk on to the field with the courage to face not just the group of young players in front of them but the multiple expectations that come along with the title of "coach".

We hope you will join us come May 1st.  Until then please forward your thoughts and ideas.

See you on the field,

Coach Bill

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

Sixteen years ago, right about this time of year (give or take a few days) I decided to unleash CanadaKicks onto the world wide web as we old timers so charmingly called it back then.  I had just been laid off from my Board of Education position, times were tight with a young family and I decided that there might be something to this new internet thing everyone was talking about and maybe learning a few new skills might be in order.

Starting out as an AOL page under the Compuserve banner the page soon took a life of it's own and from day one served as a place where Canadian soccer fans, largely ignored (and not thought to exist) by the mainstream media, finally had a place to get some news (even a press release was a big deal back then), the occasional piece of opinion and eventually some solid writing from a number of contributors.  We were welcomed by one and all from the top to the bottom of the game and I'd like to think that the site played some small role in getting the game in Canada into the 21st century whether it was ready or not. (We were actually online before the CSA not much of an achievement I admit but a milestone nonetheless. )

CanadaKicks, at the time, was very much a lone voice in the dark, cold wilderness.

You have to remember at that time, the latest incarnation of the Canadian Soccer League had been gone for a few years leaving just Montreal and Vancouver playing in something called the A-League and besides that not much else.  The Americans had just hosted a successful beyond anyone's imagination World Cup and with the launch of MLS in the coming summer seemed poised to leave Canada and our schizoid approach to the game well in the dust.

The times have definitely changed. Over the years we added CanadaKicks radio (thanks TEAM1200 in Ottawa) podcasts, blogging and now Twitter but resisted Facebook (at least as a business forum) and Google+ all the while knowing that the site was no longer the lonely acapella voice in the wilderness but part of a major symphony of sound and information emanating from points high and low across the country.

The number of top quality fan driven sites is quite amazing (and continue to increase it seems daily) for a country of our size, the corporate big media types have just in the last few months increased their coverage in both terms of amount and talent so the game has never been in safer hands when it comes to coverage both on and off the field.  We may not be world class (yet) on the field but I would put our coverage up against any other nation expecting us not just to compete but win the odd big game.

This onslaught of information is a both a good and bad thing - for with all the quality (and there is plenty of it) there comes the quantity which while great in number often lacks in substance, talent and true insight.  In short it's a perfect reflection of the game in Canada and what it has been for too many years - the ongoing march down the path of participation over the more difficult road making of striving for achievement and quality.

Ever wonder why soccer in Canada is calling it the LTPD (Long Term Player Development) instead of its true name LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development)?  Players = Inclusive i.e. Everyone Plays while Athletes = Exclusive i.e. We work hard to be successful.  Which do you think is easier to swallow for the most politically correct of all sporting bodies?  Now you know.

Meanwhile, "We apologise for the inconvenience."

Bill Ault
Twitter: @bill_ault

Monday, October 31, 2011

Preaching Patience But Growing Tired...

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.
All good ideas and well overdue.  Chiet himself says it bests when in the update he says:

"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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

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.

Monday, October 03, 2011

270 Days

According to Richard Whittall over at the Score it is time to jettison Aron Winter because Toronto FC need to win right now and not worry about managerial vision or building for the future.

270 Days.

I guess that is the new limitation on coaches and building successful programs in the modern day. Like fifty is the new forty and forty is the new thirty, nine months is the new three seasons in managerial careers. In this world of instant gratification, entitlement and we have nothing to learn from the past this is soccer's version of "I want it all and I want it now."

Well good luck with that is all I can say. Maybe it's because I've coached that I have developed a soft spot for people who attempt to make a living from teaching and managing this game but to me the biggest mistakes that Toronto FC (and the Whitecaps and the Impact) has made in the past few seasons has been the propensity to change (coaches, direction, philosophy) more often than models on a Paris runway.

It's never been more a quick short cut to mediocrity at best and the bottom of the standings at worst in the vast majority of cases. Sure a late season change can just be enough sometimes to get you over the hump and into the play-offs or relegation safety but rarely does it result in any long term benefits or improvement to a club.

What you need to succeed in MLS, according to Whittall is simple, "“You need leadership, the ability to get the best out of the players you have at the right time, luck, and belief.”

True and add to those qualities solid if not spectacular goalkeeping, a decent backline, a solid creative midfielder, a striker that actually knows how to put the ball in the back of the goal and I almost guarantee you will succeed in any league at any level. Without these I don't care if you are General George Patton, Sir Alex Ferguson and Joan of Arc rolled into one your not winning many titles. As they say - "You need the horses."

By my count TFC had one of those qualities in personnel at the start of the season – now I’d say they have three of the four and the play since the end of July has reflected that. The addition of Torsten Frings and Danny Koervermans in the summer signing window along with the other roster changes have certainly seen a significant improvement on the result sides of things including a decent run in the CONCACAF Champions League. Perhaps more importantly than the results, at least for the future, is the improvement in the play of the vast majority of the other players on the roster including a number of young Canadians who are now knocking on the door of the Canadian national team program.

Have mistakes been made? Certainly as I'm sure Winter and his team would admit. Some trades have not paid off on the field but for the most part have paid off on the ledger which will be very important as Winter and his management team continue to make changes in preparation for 2012.

It is totally unrealistic to have expectations of turning around five years of “wandering in the wilderness” in nine months. That's just not enough time to make the moves you need to make, assess the long term viability of players and implement the philosophy of play you want your team to play.

If by the end of next season there have not been significant changes and forward progress then I think you could pass judgment on the group. But after 270 days? Surely anyone deserves more time than that to turn this creaky ship around.