How can we help Elite Women’s Soccer In Manitoba and Canada?

Manitoba’s Soccer Establishment must take Notice

Women’s soccer, more specifically, elite women’s soccer in Manitoba, is broken. The year 2017 saw, for the first time in memory, Manitoba failing to send a team to the senior women’s club nationals. There was no team that wanted to go. Sadly, from all the teams in the women’s league, only three entered the 2017 MSA Cup competition. One of the three teams initially dropped out. To make matters worse, before a women’s MSA Cup game was even played, it was determined there would only be one game to decide the winner going to nationals. Ultimately, the remaining two teams declined the opportunity to represent Manitoba.

The CSA’s Role

Before we examine the Manitoba issues regarding what is wrong with elite women’s soccer in this province the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) must decide if the club nationals are relevant. If the CSA decides the club nationals are indeed relevant they must take an active role in promoting the tournament. How can the CSA promote the club nationals?

Promoting the club national tournament could be simple as stating that national team coaches will attend the tournament and use the tournament as a recruiting tool. CSA could also encourage women’s professional team coaches, from around the world, to attend the tournament. In short advertise this event as a valuable talent pool for all involved in women’s elite soccer.  Further, increasing funding for the provincial club teams that attend, as a reward for winning their provincial titles, would also be a positive step towards making the club national tournament desirable to attend. These are just two things that could done.

Now we consider the provincial perspective on this issue. The question is, “Why is there not one women’s team willing to represent Manitoba at the club nationals?” There are a number of factors at play, however there are two major reasons for the lack of interest.

First Major Issue

The first reason for the lack of interest is the cost of participate in the club national tournament. Teams and their players who win the MSA Cup are responsible for paying their own way to represent their province. The players must fundraise and reach into their own pockets to fund the travel to the national tournament. Further, most of the players are working full-time as no female soccer player is making their living at playing soccer. Each player on the MSA Cup winning team will lose a week’s wages for the right to represent their province at the club nationals. This double hit on the player’s financial well-being is a major reason for not wanting to participate in the national tournament.

And as we saw with the 2017 situation – the teams that initially entered the Cup but ultimately withdrew had to pay-not-to-play! The system is broken. Paying thousands of dollars not to go to a national tournament is simply wrong. Fees paid to the Canadian Soccer Association and the Manitoba Soccer Association through player registration fees should be more than enough to fund the national club tournaments. Specifically, the MSA must take note of the declining interest in the MSA Cup and CSA nationals, and come up with funds to ensure players can afford to compete at this level. Fining teams for not wanting to go to a national tournament makes no sense on so many levels. And it will certainly not encourage participation in the future.

Second Major Issue

The second major issue plaguing Manitoba women’s soccer is a shortage of quality players available for teams aspiring to go to nationals.

The poor performance by Manitoban women’s teams at club nationals must change.To be specific, the MSA Cup takes place in the summer and the national tournament takes place in early October. There is a shortage of elite level female players available to Manitoba club teams for a variety of reasons. But the main reason is the increasing number of players involved in university soccer. Most of these university bound players are only available to club teams for the first half of our local soccer season. However, many club teams will add university players to flesh out their rosters during the early season. This practice is beneficial for the teams as well as the university player. However, university players return to their university teams in August after the MSA Cup is completed. A MSA Cup winning team is then short of players for the national tournament. It is truly tragic that the good-news story of increasing university opportunities for Manitobans also tells the disastrous story of our current club system.

While it is unlikely that players attending United States universities could reconnect with their Winnipeg club team for the Canadian nationals – we know that the local universities could allow this to happen. We have seen in past years that the western Canadian university schedules can pause for the October club nationals. However, university soccer coaches are reluctant to release any of their players to the club teams participating in the club national tournament. In Manitoba, as many as fifty players are “locked-up” by the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba. MSA Cup winning teams often cannot find enough quality players, and injuries compound this shortage, to take to the club nationals. Cup winning teams are then forced to add less qualified players or go to nationals with a depleted roster. Both situations result in a poor showing at the national tournament. Perhaps the MSA can convince the local universities to release players to their club for the Nationals week. As the local universities use MSA sanctioned game officials, the future use of these officials could be conditional on co-operation with our local club programs. Manitoban women’s teams consistently show poorly at the national level, often not winning any games. 

So, as noted above – being financially too costly for players and their teams as well as the prospect of a depleted roster and poor results at the national level the two major reasons for the lack of interest in going to the club national tournament by Manitoban women’s soccer teams.

Other Areas of Concern

The local club team landscape could be adjusted somewhat to support the teams interested in fostering elite club soccer. The Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League (WWSL) seems totally uninterested in enhancing elite soccer participation. The WWSL furnishes divisional leagues that quite appropriately offer recreational soccer. It also purports to furnish an elite division – the premier division. The premier division has had too many teams competing for the fewer number of elite payers available which weakens  team’s rosters. As well, guest/replacement players that the ultimate cup winning team inevitably looks for, to bolster their team’s national roster.

Some Suggestions for Change

Premier club soccer has to be made more attractive to potential players. The Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League (WWSL) should consider subsidizing the teams who enter the premier division. The funds for this subsidy would come from members in all WWSL divisions – with the logic that all female Manitoba players are supporting the elite level of local female soccer. Essentially elite soccer teams that win the MSA Cup will be representing all Manitoba female soccer players when they compete in the club national tournament. 

Subsidies could include lower premier team registration fees and league games only at the premium fields, for example the Ralph Cantafio Soccer Complex on Waverley Street. The recent removal of assistant referees from Premier games is a clear indication that our “premier” division is not considered an elite division but rather a something less than elite. It is no wonder that when our university players finish their university eligibility, and return to the WWSL, are more likely to play co-ed soccer. Elite female soccer players, in their prime playing years, are giving up playing elite soccer. The premier division in Manitoban women’s soccer is not a viable options for them – which is a very sad situation.Many female elite soccer players leave the game of soccer entirely simply because they consider that their “soccer playing days” are over. Despite the efforts, ambitions and coaching expertise present in a few local club teams, it is increasingly difficult to sell the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League (WWSL), premier soccer, to our elite players.

These issues, and others not mentioned, must be addressed or the future of elite women’s soccer in Manitoba is bleak. Manitoba’s soccer establishment must take a leadership role and change the status quo. There was a time, not that long ago, when premier women’s soccer was healthy. Winning an MSA Cup Championship was an extremely valued prize. Now it a seems a proposition plagued with so many problems that it is best avoided at all costs.

Elite women’s soccer can be fixed, but the will to do so must come from the highest levels of the Canadian an Manitoba soccer leadership. It is of paramount importance for Manitoba soccer that leadership act in a positive and innovative way to correct the problems that plague elite women’s soccer in this province.  

A Minimum Solution

A new Rule with more flexibility should be introduced by the CSA and MSA: “Whatever the numbers of players a team loses due to universities should be allowed to replace them with ANY female players from the MMSL league or other leagues”

Much has been made of soccer as the great global equalizer, “a common language, a shared culture … an affirmation of identity,” but we need to give the Manitoba women a chance to compete and CSA,MSA and WWSL can help. “Soccer has an almost myth-making ability to transcend identity and unite the world and in this case the soccer in Manitoba and Canada”.

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Play at the Rhythm you Train

In today’s youth soccer world many young athletes are striving to attain excellence. As a result developmental and talent identification programs have gained huge popularity. Sadly however, there remains a lack of continuity among these programs and worse many of these programs are just empty promises. The net result of these substandard developmental and talent identification programs is often players leaving beautiful game at very young ages.

Further, the success rate of developmental and talent identification programs have rarely been assessed. The validity of the models these programs employ remain debatable.  It should be advocated that developmental and talent identification programs be dynamic and interconnected. These programs need to take into consideration the current maturity status of an individual and the potential for that individual to develop rather than to exclude children at an early age. Finally, more representative real world tasks should be to focus on the INDIVIDUAL not the team and also the focus should be on developed and employed to increase the effectiveness of these developmental and talent identification programs.

Canadian youth sports are far too often focused on talent selection than talent identification.

We say we are developing youth athletes for the future, but all too often we are using them to balance the budget. The today’s soccer system will select the currently talented athlete that will help then win now, because if they do not, the club down the road will grab that talent and win often resulting in our best players leaving. Does this sounds familiar? We are not identifying and developing the youth athletes that are most likely to become elite competitors when they are fully developed physically (after puberty). We are selecting the youth athletes that are currently performing at an elite level, however often these youth athletes do not have the characteristics needed for long term elite performance.

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How can we fix this?

Here are a few simple thoughts for youth soccer, that to be honest, should not be difficult to implement.

Firstly, stop cutting players at young ages, just do not do it and introduce Fair Play Rule!

Instead develop large numbers of players and not just the elite performing players. Offer  all youth athletes and parents a choice. Allow them to choose their level of commitment. For example levels such as A, B or C listed below:

  1. Practice 1 time a week plus a minimum of 1 game
  2. Practice 2 to 3 times a week plus a minimum of 1 game
  3. Practice unlimited times a week plus a minimum of 1-2 game

Secondly, we need to consider lowering and limiting the number of players per squad.

Focusing on developing all players at the youngest ages with particular attention given to helping the less skilled players. Help these youth athletes to develop technically by limiting squad-size.

Once these youth athletes finish developing physically, soccer programs will have a much larger pool of adequately skilled athlete to choose from.

Thirdly, establish a youth soccer national academy league.

By starting this new National Academy Soccer stream and league, we will acquire a better understanding of the programming, align our player development system and unify our vision for growing the game in Canada.

In this league will teach and encourage coaches to develop talent rather than try and win immediately (there are so many clubs doing this that it is not even funny)!

Lastly, educate the soccer establishment – the problem with youth soccer is not competition.

The problem is the attitude of the boards,coaches and parents toward competition.

These ideas are just a start. We need to start making some dramatic changes to our youth soccer system. If we do not, soccer countries from around the world catch up and eventually surpass the success enjoyed by our Canadian women’s soccer program. The Canadian Soccer Association and most of the provinces, including Manitoba, focus on the elite soccer programs instead of promoting more the grassroots soccer by pointing out the long term benefits.


Canadian soccer is not among the elite nations in men soccer…  yet.

The main reason is our soccer development culture. The good news is we can close the gap by implementing the ideas suggested above.

Why make all these changes?

So our soccer programs and schools will eventually have larger numbers of skilled athletes to choose from, as well our society as whole will benefit from much healthier and more well rounded youth. We will have families who are less stressed both financially and emotionally, because their kids can just be kids again. These families will not feel the pressure to have their 10 year olds travelling 2,000 miles to play a game. And finally we will allow coaches to actually coach, so they can develop both better people and better athletes.

Additional benefits are a large pool of skilled players. Lower costs. Less time devoted to youth sports and more to family and school. More success for our national team programs.


Elite athletes want to play and practice more… these athletes understand that more practice will help them to achieve their dreams. Whatever those dreams. The large expectations equals more practice.

Youth athletes with more modest expectations, require smaller amounts of practice.

Finally, more practicing requires better quality coaching and as mentioned in my previous blog… Coaching must match the expectations of the athletes.

GOALS FOR PRACTICE, GAMES AND SEASON

Building the player’s CREATIVITY and skill base continues to be the most important goal of the season. At this age, this can be done through the introduction of a few more players in the games the coach sets up. Depending on the skill level of the group, 3 v 3 to 5 v 5 plus goalkeepers should be the range during practice. Keep in mind that even the more competent players will not be working effectively as a group once the numbers get beyond 5 v 5. In the smaller numbers, emphasis must still be on creating 1 v 1 or 2 v 1 duels on the field. These are key situations that will continue to confront players throughout their career. Gaining competence and mastery over these numbers is the key to preparing players for the future. What I hear I forget, What I hear and see I remember a little; What I hear, see and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to understand; What I hear, see, discuss and do, I acquire knowledge and skill; What I teach to another I master. (Adapted from the Chinese Philosopher Confucius)


To affect change in Canadian soccer a shift in coaching methodology needs to take place. The development of creative, intuitive players is greatly impacted by coaching style. When conducting training sessions there needs to be a greater reliance on game oriented training that is player-centered. Enabling players to explore and arrive at their own solutions. This is in contrast to the coach-centered training that has been the mainstay of coaching methodology in Manitoba and Canada.


GAME-CENTRED TRAINING DEFINED

Game-centred training implies that the primary training environment is playing games as opposed to training players in a drill-type environment. There is a time for a more direct approach to coaching, where players need more guidance and direction to develop. However, if the goal is to develop creative players who have the abilities to solve problems and interpret game situations on their own, then a game-centred guided discovery approach will need to be employed. This approach taps into the essentials that are always present within the team. Players want to play and enjoy playing the game first and foremost. The game is used as a training tool to allow players to get comfortable with the pace, as well as the physical and mental demands that competition place on an athlete. Players play because they enjoy the competition and the game. They have a passion for the game. They like to compete. This is where they find and express their joy and creativity.

The Brazilians have always been noted for their touch, creativity, dynamic and instinctive play. Their individual brilliance with the ball sets them apart from the rest of the world. Allowing for uninterrupted play during training times helps to develop these characteristics in players. These characteristics are learned on the “streets” without the guidance or even presence of a coach. This opportunity must be provided for the players. The prevailing culture of our society must be to provide players with opportunities to develop on their own the Canadian way!

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CONCLUSION

We will continue to see smaller nations closing the gap and eventually surpassing our Canadian woman’s team success unless we start making some dramatic changes to our youth soccer system.

Canadian and Manitoban soccer program are not elite… yet. We can be recognized as elite, but there is much work to do. There are many benefits to making these changes. Our clubs and schools will enjoy larger numbers of skilled athletes, as well as the additional benefit of healthier youth. We will have families who are less stressed emotionally and financially, because their kids can just be kids again. We will allow coaches to actually coach letting them develop better athletes and soccer players.

There will be an abundance of skilled players. Lower participation costs. There will be less time devoted to youth sports and more time to family and school. There will be more success for our national teams and elite athletes, because they understand that the amount of practice directly relates to them to achieving their dreams… whatever the dreams. The smaller the dreams the smaller amount of practice needed. The bigger the dreams the larger the amount of practice that is needed. Simple.

Quality coaching with a strong focus on the technical, tactical, physical and psychological development of individual players on a pathway towards maximizing their full potential at whatever their level:

  1. Recreational player
  2. Competitive player
  3. Performance player
  4. Elite player

Tailor curriculum to provide players with a fun, energetic and competitive environment focused on individual player development .

Unfortunately in Canada there is way to much competition among the so called DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS. We need to help identify and evaluate strategies for performance enhancement but not by cutting players. Canadians should strive to be recognized as leaders in providing the best soccer developmental programs for all skill levels. Nurturing future players by focusing on all levels of soccer with special emphasis on the grassroots level.

Play at the Rhythm you Train!

Youth Soccer Coaching

What style of soccer coaching is best for you and your team?

Youth Coaching Main Graphic

Communication is at the heart of virtually every human endeavour and coaching soccer is no different. In this blog I will focus on what style of coaching will be more appropriate for you and the most effective communication techniques for dealing with the players in the world of youth soccer.

There are many different styles and ways to coach a soccer team and it is imperative that we choose a style that brings harmony and fits with your team’s culture and attitude.


How to tailor your strategy and attitude to get the most out of your unique group of soccer players.


Coaching is a multifaceted ideal… current youth coach training only address the most basic of these areas.

In Canada and in Manitoba, many youth soccer coaches attend initial coach training such as the community coach stream and perhaps later the advanced licensing stream.

For all their value, none of the courses on the community coach stream offer coaches a practical behaviour model for effectively coaching on game day, rather these courses demonstrate how to organize effective training.

Game day coaching behaviour is left to the coach’s imagination. Coaches are left to make up their own style without regard to whether it is effective or not.Coaches one

Hopefully the CSA and Jason de Vos will take notice of this oversight and make the adjustments to future courses. Game day coaching behaviour is an important aspect of a coach’s development, especially in the early years.

As well, the term coaching style refers to the overall direction of each session. A coach must determine which type of coaching style best fits them and their players and how they wish to get there.

Understanding the different coaching styles is key, so we can use and combine the most appropriate styles when coaching the youth players.

Remember even youth soccer teams adjust to the personality of the coach’s style. Continue reading

Together Everyone Achieves More

Corporate table with playersWhen Everyone Has A Seat At The Table, We All Win

Saskatchewan Soccer Association (SSA) broke new ground on Saturday when its membership moved to approve acceptance of private soccer academies as full, regular members of the Association, alongside traditional youth soccer clubs and associations. The SSA is the first jurisdiction in Canada to formally recognize private soccer institutions in this way….

“This is a truly pioneering decision that embraces the key stakeholders who develop our young soccer players,” said [Jason] de Vos. “It is encouraging to see soccer clubs and academies acknowledging that they are all in the same business of developing players. Our sport is about teamwork, and our clubs and academies in Saskatchewan are truly playing like a team.” 

Canadian Soccer Association, March 20, 2017


The decision of the Saskatchewan Soccer Association to treat private academies and traditional clubs and associations equally is truly a landmark decision. All stakeholders involved should be tremendously proud of themselves for the achievement of putting self-interests aside and collaborating for the betterment of the game and its players.

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A Rocky Relationship

There has existed a long and acrimonious relationship between private academies and traditional community based soccer clubs and associations. A relationship based on fear, mistrust, hostility, paranoia and protectionism.

Private academies, generally for-profit, exist and are setup to be controlled by a single ownership entity. Thus owners could be an individual or a group of professionals as is often the case with many academies. Governance structure is decided upon and staffed by the owner(s) who employee them to serve the best interest of the academy. Membership in an academy is selective and is based on the academies interests and ability to provide services. Quality academies will effectively develop complete players in the globally accepted Four Corner Model for youth development (social, psychological, physical and technical/tactical). Thus players developed through academies tend to achieve gains much closer to their potential and often progress to higher levels of the game then those developed exclusively in the community club model.

Traditional community based soccer clubs and associations, hereafter referred to simply as clubs, generally holding a NPO designation, were originally designed to be community volunteer driven and operate for the greater good of the community to help with its youth sporting needs. As such, clubs are not allowed to be selective in its membership and must provide some form of programming to all interested community members. Relying entirely on volunteer coaches with varying degrees of coaching experience and understanding of the game, player development results over the past several decades have been very poor. This shortcoming stems from ineffectively training complete athletes in accordance with the Four Corner Model of player development. The club model satisfies the physical and social corners of the model fairly well as these tend to develop organically however it is the technical/tactical and psychological corners that really require a qualified coach to help develop players to their potential.

While clubs enjoy the many benefits of Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and Provincial Member Association sanctioning their private counterparts generally do not. On the flip side, while clubs are required to provide services to all, often within a specified geographic area, private academies enjoy the freedom of selectivity of its membership without boundaries.

While both sides bicker and argue over who is affected most adversely by their co-existence, the lack of effort to resolve these issues has harmed no one more than the PLAYERS!


Evolution of the Traditional Soccer Club

Recognizing our player development failures, the CSA worked very hard over the past decade with its Provincial Member Associations to implement Long Term Player Development (LTPD), a national program that represents a paradigm shift in the way youth soccer in Canada is delivered.

At its core are the following principles:

  1. Emphasis on technical skill development through the use of Small-Sided Games (SSG) and appropriately sized pitches and goals
  2. The de-emphasis on winning with the removal of league standings below U13
  3. Better coach education with the goal of increasing our qualified pool of coaches

This later morphed into the initial stage of the Canada Soccer Pathway which acts as a roadmap to guide players of all ages and skills through the soccer system and on to a life-long enjoyment of the game.

Another major initiative the CSA is in the process of rolling out is the Club Charter “Starting Eleven” program which seeks incentives for clubs to implement.

  1. Player development programming
  2. Coaching development programming
  3. Governance and administrative guidelines for Board members and support personnel

Of its eleven specified criteria some of the most significant impacts to clubs include requirements for a certified club head coach and a recognized professional administrator (both paid positions) as well as standard equipment requirements and the adoption of best communication practices which includes the maintenance of a website.

While bringing traditional youth clubs more closely in alignment with the standards of professionally run private academies, these changes represent significant new expenses to their operation. Expenses compounded by the much larger size of clubs relative to private academies as a result of their requirement to service the community and generally lacking selectiveness in its membership. These expenses get passed on to the players and their families and it is now common for club soccer to be more expensive than attending a private academy. Soccer registration fees over the past decade have soared, doubling even tripling over that time! Once considered a cheap means of summer exercise, soccer is quickly becoming a sport for the wealthy with far too many families no longer able to afford their children’s participation at a level commensurate with their skills and ambitions.


New Goals, New Initiatives & New Partnerships

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The CSA has very clearly signalled its desire and intention to move the game of soccer in Canada from its traditional recreational status to one in which we want and expect to be competitive on the international stage in the future.

To accomplish this goal, serious changes were and remain necessary. It began with new initiatives like the LTPD player and coach development and the Club Charter programs aimed at moving the game from a recreational mindset to a more formal and structured environment for learning and development. Moving forward there is much to be done. While theoretically the CSA’s player pathway for competitive and Excel/Elite players has potential, it is largely dependent on High Performance youth leagues and Pro Club academies that don’t yet exist, particularly outside of the big three MLS centres of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Take for instance a smaller province like Manitoba that does not have a High Performance Youth league or a professional club with an academy, all of the Talent Identification and High Performance training is performed at the Manitoba Regional Excel Centre that is run by the Provincial Association and a seemingly arm’s length partnership with a professional club; in Manitoba’s case, the Vancouver Whitecaps. With limited staff and resources the number of players they can accept into their Regional Excel Centre is far less than the available talent that warrants the opportunity to be developed.

As a nation, our high-performance training has primarily been the responsibility of our governing bodies – the CSA and provincial associations. The problem with this approach – one that is not taken by any successful football nation – is that it affects far too few players. The end result is an extremely shallow pool of talented players from which to select our national teams. While the training and development for the select few in these programs might be sufficient, the size and scale of the program is not…. We cannot rely solely on the three MLS club academies to develop young players; we need 30 such academies, not three” – Jason de Vos, June 1, 2013

There is a new first division professional Canadian soccer league in the works expected to launch potentially as early as 2018. This will be huge as each professional club in Canada is mandated to operate a youth academy thus providing more opportunity to our youth to develop in some of the best training environments available in this country. It will also open up more realistic pathways for players to follow. Under the current system almost all of Western Canada’s youth are funneled toward the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy, in Ontario to the Toronto FC Academy and out east to the Montreal Impact Academy; yet less than 1 in 10,000 of these players will ever see the first team bench let alone game minutes! A new Canadian league will provide more academies, more elite training opportunities and more professional development with real game minutes.
With the CSA’s much welcomed new found ambition comes the necessity for these new initiatives but equally as important – new Partnerships to achieve them! We’ve seen the evolution of the objectives for the sport and we’ve seen the evolution of the structure and role of Traditional Soccer Clubs, now it’s time to take the final step and evolve our relationships and partnerships between the private and public service providers of soccer in this country. Like Jason de Vos has stated and the Saskatchewan Soccer Association has demonstrated, now is the time for us all to do our part for the betterment of the game and the achievement of our shared goals. We need everyone to be on the same page and realize that We All Play For Canada!


Together Everyone Achieves More

Team graphic.png

While the Canada Soccer Pathway is largely in place in the three big provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, it has holes like a swiss cheese throughout the rest of the country – namely in the lack of High Performance (HP) Leagues. It is not possible to have a truly HP league without including private academies many of which include the best local talent, highest licensed coaches and trainers and highest operational and training standards. To fill in these holes across the country, it will require TEAM work, from groups of people with various complementary skills, working together towards a common soccer vision. Team members must operate with a high degree of trust, accountability and interdependence.

Like in other areas of life, more competition requires that we raise our standards to attract the best. To meet the standards and be competitive, clubs and academies would want to hire, train and retrain the best coaches available, and to retain the best players, provide the best environments operationally and training-wise. Competition reduces complacency. As a result the entire soccer community elevates its game, but only by working together to create that environment.

About 4 years ago, Rob Gale, former Manitoba Soccer Association (MSA) technical director being a forward thinker,tried to bridge the divide within the community and introduce academy clubs to Manitoba similar to what the Saskatchewan Soccer Association board approved last week. In the eleventh hour, fear and mistrust won out and the program fell through. In the interim, while other components of the CSA Pathway have been successfully implemented, we are, as most of the rest of the country is still, lacking in a fundamental step in that pathway. Had the program implementation been successful, Manitoba could have been the leader and envy among soccer jurisdictions in Canada.

In Manitoba, it is critical that we don’t fall behind all the other provinces and we have to put structures in place to identify the best players and develop them in professional environments which in the past where only accessible through the provincial programs. We must continue to raise the level of the game in Manitoba so we can continue to send players to play professionally or in the Canada National youth teams. That means we must be willing to not just include academies in the Manitoba pathway but welcome their commitment to the development of both players and coaches to the highest standards.

Congratulations to the Saskatchewan Soccer Association for leading the way!

Please follow  the link below for a better understanding of my view of soccer development in Manitoba and Canada

https://wsawinnipeg.wordpress.com/category/soccer-development/

Governance of Soccer in Manitoba

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The Old Ways Must Change (Part Two)

Youth soccer in this city is suffering at the hands of what else… Politics!

Societal events tell the story of a political climate. The way people behave indicates their feelings, mood or comfort-level in an organization or community. The current soccer climate in Manitoba can’t be better stated than by Oui Truong, former Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association president.

“It has become very clear to me in the time that I have been with WYSA that the environment in our soccer community is toxic and not conducive to progress and collaboration, egos, grudges, hostility, stubbornness, and paranoia run rampant, and every action or decision is met with these barriers to success…”

In this political climate one of the biggest obstacles to progress locally is the failure to integrate the public club model with private clubs or private acdemies into a system where they can coexist. The “experts” will tell you that the district run soccer clubs are superior to private academies or private clubs in that they have the athlete’s best interests in mind since they offer services for the betterment of the athlete. “They” will tell you the private clubs and private academies over-train players in order to make money. This logic is simply loaded with inconsistencies.

The Breakdown

It has been my experience that all district soccer clubs offer extra training in their own “academy”, often the fees for which are in addition to club registration. What if, I want my child to receive some extra training from someone who has come highly recommended by a friend or colleague? It has come to my attention repeatedly this is highly frowned upon by the majority of the districts and the argument they will give you is this alleged “fear of overtraining”. Yet, it would be OK for them to over train my kid in their program? Seems hypocritical and downright dishonest to me. What difference does it make where I seek out extra training if I’m the consumer? I want to purchase the best product! If the district offered the best training perhaps I would choose the district. Sounds like they may be more concerned with lost revenue then the well-being of my child. I should be allowed to choose though, without penalty. Being a former club head coach and a parent, I have come to understand that if one wants their child to get noticed as an “up and comer” they better enroll them in some extra training offered by the district club and have them play for the district team in their neighborhood. Only then will they get noticed by provincial level coaches from the Manitoba Soccer Association (MSA) and National level coaches from the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA). Since when is competition not welcomed in a free, democratic society? It encourages accountability for service providers. Again, EVERY group needs to be accountable for what they are offering and I as the consumer have the right to choose the best product available. The notion that “because I live here, I must train and play exclusively for this district club” is anything but accountable.

Finally and perhaps the most confusing issue of all is the MSA’s decision to take the National Development Center (NDC) program in a new direction. Before the changes were made, it was decided this program must use the highest licensed and most experienced coaches possible; regardless if they came from a district club or private enterprise. Now, two years later, the program is staffed with unqualified or inexperienced coaches from the district clubs ONLY!!! The female stream of the program is called REX and has a mandate to advance girls through to the National Team; however, the two primary coaches that actually do most of the training don’t even have Canadian B-National Licences and they have very little experience. Which way do you think works better? The best way to find out would be to look at the number of players that progressed to national youth teams when we used the coaches with lots of coaching experience and with the highest level of coaching available in Manitoba – now compare that to the new model of the last 3 years. Kind of proves my point!

The point is this, the MSA and CSA mandates should be to hire the best coaches (experience+licences) and identify the best player talent regardless if they come from a private academy club or a public district club.

In Part 1 of this discussion on Governance, we established that the CSA has admitted in their own governance model that they defer to the provincial associations. So it becomes all the more important to have good leadership at our provincial levels. I will continue with the idea that MSA and WYSA needs to govern and not to become a club by creating soccer teams. The CSA moved away from the provincial programs , the NTC programs etc., and have ask the private clubs Toronto FC, Montreal Impact, FC Edmonton, Vancouver Whitecaps, Calgary Foothills, Ottawa Fury…to manage high performance instead. MSA and WYSA should follow suit, not do the opposite and start their own soccer programs.

To Sum Up

The question remains…is anybody at the CSA or MSA listening? As a coach over the past 25+ years I have come to conclude that the Manitoba community based soccer system needs help. There is little regard for the customers (parents & players). A monopoly simply has no incentive to pay any regard to those who pay the bills when they are the only game in town. There is little in the way of oversight regarding government funds being utilized to pay very large salaries to one or two individuals per club, regardless of results.

The MSA needs to open up the competition. We need to use the most experienced and qualified coaches in the province and country, we must include them not exclude them because somehow the people in charge feel threatened by them and their knowledge. How can a province like Manitoba and a country like Canada for that matter afford to keep the private clubs and experienced Canadian A-licence coaches out and not get them involved? Somebody please explain to me the rationale behind that? The only one I can think of was best said by Oai Truong, former President of WYSA, in his resignation letter:

“That the environment in our soccer community is toxic and not conducive to progress and collaboration. Egos, grudges, hostility, stubbornness, and paranoia run rampant, and every action or decision is met with these barriers to success”

What is Meant by “Old Ways”?

First and foremost we need to move away from decision making based on personal agendas within associations and clubs. Remove the leaders of these organizations with agendas aimed at protecting their own spheres of influence. Move away from this mentality and these people who are detrimental to players and the game of soccer, move to a more supportive soccer system. A system where the athlete and the game are put above those of the chosen few presidents, board members or executive directors.

The MSA and WYSA simply need to govern the game, nothing more!

Our Soccer Governance Needs to Change.

All players in Manitoba, as well as Canada, should be allowed, even encouraged, to play as much or as little as they like. The elite player along with the grassroots player should be embraced with the same enthusiasm, each player should have their specific needs fulfilled. In this way the game of soccer is strengthened.

Under the present soccer system in Manitoba, there are countless examples where elite players are not allowed to return to their appropriate soccer leagues once they are finished with their elite level commitments. Meaning they want to play, but are disallowed! Who benefits? Not the athlete. Neither the league nor the teams within those leagues.

Players from Winnipeg’s PDL team are a perfect example of this foolishness. Arguably among the best players at their age, PDL players are not allowed to return to their appropriate leagues, men’s or youth leagues, once their very short PDL season is finished. This means that some of the best players in Manitoba must sit idle, waiting for these leagues to finish their seasons before joining a team. Players like Moses Danto who has just signed a contract to play professional soccer, could not find a team to play on in Manitoba once his PDL season had finished.

Absolute madness… an amateur star player is denied the opportunity to play soccer in his home town! Further, the fans of soccer in Manitoba are denied the opportunity to watch a star player. An amateur player that all Manitobans should be proud of playing the beautiful game. Sometimes the youth and the adult teams are playing short as they don’t have enough players and what do we do? We restrict amateurs and youth players from playing. Again, who benefits from this? Or rather who does not benefit? The answer is our sport does not benefit. Our youth have a tremendous number of options, sports and otherwise, competing for their time and energy. If the players do not feel they are being embraced by the beautiful game of soccer… they move on to something else.

The “old ways” must change. The petty self-interests, bickering, grudges and distrust that former WYSA president Oui Truong referred to must be eliminated. If Canadian soccer is to evolve and advance on the world stage and if we hope to improve our participation rates… look after our athletes… change our soccer governance and change our old ways of doing things!

Social Change Movement

The main theme of this blog has been to provoke discussion and hopefully generate change in the way our province and indeed our country do things with regards to the game of soccer. Social change initiatives may serve as a barometer of political climate or even shape it.Public sentiment about an issue can be a deciding factor in the importance of the issue. Mr. Truong’s comments, about the political climate and the need for change may alter the present course by instilling new public expectations or garnering mass support.

“It has become very clear to me in the time that I have been with WYSA that the environment in our soccer community is toxic and not conducive to progress and collaboration. Egos, grudges, hostility, stubbornness, and paranoia run rampant, and every action or decision is met with these barriers to success…”

THAT REALLY SUMS IT UP!!!

Solution

We need to move away from the old ways of doing things. There needs to be a new Canadian and Provincial governance system that works and not one that pretends it works! Everybody is moving in separate directions when they ought to be moving in a single unified direction under strong centralized leadership. Only once this happens will we have a shot at joining the ranks of of true footballing nations, but it requires true intelligent leadership.

The true leader serves people. Serves their best interests, and in so doing will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the
price.

“As Mr.Truong before me I leave you with the message below and I hope you all will carry with you as I have”

LEADERSHIP, MANAGEMENT and
PARTNERSHIP.

WITHOUT INTEGRITY DEPENDABILITY AND
PERSEVERANCE NOTHING WORKS!

The Need for New Governance

Part One of Two

Part Two: Manitoba Governance will be posted in two weeks.

imageIn our sixth in a series of 7 discussions on opportunities for soccer development in Manitoba and Canada, we will look at the need for new Canadian Governance.
There continues to be a number of major problems confronting soccer in Canada. Governance of our local and regional soccer bodies is one of them. Good governance is necessary, but it alone, will not solve the major problems confronting soccer. Effective governance removes barriers, gives permissions, sets directions, and better allocates resources to enables change. It alone does not solve all the developmental soccer problems, but strong governance creates the framework under which problems become solvable.

“Development” is the key word in Canadian soccer; it is a clever word the “brass” use in order buys time. There are self-serving personal agendas blocking advancement at various levels. Jason Devos (TSN commentator, former professional and National team player) put it best when he said:

“At the provincial and district levels the game is still facing the same parochial challenges that have restricted soccer development for decades. Provincial boards of directors are largely comprised of district presidents, who are elected by their member clubs. Those district presidents are faced with an inherent conflict of loyalty. Do they do what is in the best interests of the game at the provincial (and by extension, the national) level, or do they do what is in the best interests of the clubs in their own district? Far too often, district loyalties trump the greater good. The result is a fractured, broken governance structure, where change rarely takes place – and when it does, it happens at a glacial pace.”

image.pngCSA and Regional Leadership

Good sporting governance begins with strong leadership from the top down. Titles are important, no doubt about that, but they don’t necessarily equate to being an effective leader. True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed or assigned. Leadership is not primarily a formal position. Being a leader in a mass of people is more than just having the name “captain “or “technical director”. In fact, you can be a leader in your family, in your neighborhood, or in your society, all without having a title. It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position. However, because of the inability of some appointed, awarded or assigned leaders to lead, problems ensue.

A leader infuses a sense of positivity and directs others to reach the specified goal. Leadership therefore is ‘that process” in which an individual influences an organized group (followers) to attain a common goal. The ends of leadership involve getting results through others, and the means of leadership involve the ability to build cohesive, goal-oriented teams. Knowledge is power and naturally, those who believe power is the essence of leadership will assume that those who possess more knowledge will make good leaders. Yes, a knowledgeable leader who understands what drives the bottom line is valuable, but the leader who gets others to perform their best that ultimately creates a winning team. Good leaders are therefore those who build teams to get results across a variety of situations.


Hockey’s Canada

Mission Statement
“Lead, Develop, and Promote Positive Hockey Experiences.”

Vision
“World Sports Leaders”


Tennis Canada

Mission Statement
“To lead the growth of tennis in Canada.”

Vision
“To become a world-leading tennis nation.”


Canada Basketball

Mission Statement
“We aspire to excellence in leading the growth and development of the game at home, and in pursuing medal performances on the international stage. “

Vision
“Recognized as a world leader in all aspects of basketball, and consistently reaching the podium in FIBA competitions and the Olympic Games.”


Canada Soccer

Mission Statement
“To provide leadership in the pursuit of excellence in soccer, nationally and internationally, in cooperation with its members and partners.”

Vision
“Leading Canada to victory and Canadians to a life-long passion for soccer.”


In reading these mission and vision statements we see three organizations committed to being leaders and one that wants to be a partner in the governance, growth and development of their respective sport. Thus it should come as little surprise to see that our tennis, basketball and hockey programs have been more successful at producing professional and elite level talent and have been more competitive in international competition then our soccer program. Those willing to bear the burden of leadership and make tough decisions usually reap the greatest reward.

Soccer in Canada is governed and delivered by the provincial member associations in conjunction with their leagues and clubs. Youth soccer across Canada is governed and delivered very differently. This lack of uniformity in structure, governance and direction leads to a disjointed and fragile system. This is evidenced in our lack of professional player development and various national program shortcomings.

On the upside Canada Soccer has made progress in exerting some semblance of governing control over the game in Canada in the past decade – most notably with its nationwide implementation of the Long Term Player Development Program (LTPD). The LTPD represents new guidelines for the development of our youth players between the ages of 9 -12 and the program was met with a great deal of opposition not only from parents and players but also from provincial member associations, their leagues and clubs. Many provincial member associations were late to come on board, only doing so after much persuasion; ten years later the program is now fully integrated across Canada.

Canada Soccer is now woruking on another major nationwide program called the Club Charter. It is a National recognition of Clubs with the assistance of Provincial Associations / Federations to provide an incentive for Clubs to implement the following:

1. Player development programming
2. Coaching development programming
3. Governance and administrative guidelines for Board Members and support personnel

Credit to Canada Soccer as player and coach development programming lie at the heart of the now implemented LTPD program and are moving in a positive direction. But governance and administrative guidelines are sorely lacking and a root cause for the state of our current system. Although the intent of the Club Charter to provide guidance and structure in this important area is admirable, the current “Draft” status of the Club Charter unfortunately misses the mark by a great margin.

First and foremost, the Club Charter is an optional “recognition” of specific standards being met by clubs. This must be a mandatory certification of achievement of high standards in player and coach programming as well as governance for all clubs and academies wishing to receive Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and/or Provincial Member Association sanctioning to compete in sanctioned leagues and competitions.

Secondly, the Club Charter covers a set of 11 criteria, most of which are aesthetic elements required for a club to present a well-groomed, professional image but fails to address any structural guidelines on the governance and operation of clubs and academies. It fails to provide guidance or address important issues like the long-standing for-profit versus not-for-profit sanctioning conundrum, Board of Directors composition, roles, terms of office, league standards, etc.

In a July 2016 interview with CNN, Jurgen Klinsmann talked about the rapid growth of soccer in America while outlining its many challenges ahead…

“The foundation in the United States is still fragile and disconnected compared to other countries,” he said. “The youth leagues do their own thing, the professional system is not really connected to the amateur system, and that’s not really connected to the college system….So there are holes in the system, like in a Swiss cheese, and there’s a loss of quality. We’re working on connecting those pieces, on connecting player development, and on continuing to build a pyramid in this amazing country….Are the coaches properly trained and educated? Yes, the game is growing, millions of kids are playing it, but I sometimes fear a lot of that doesn’t make it through the channels of communication, or it gets lost in things like the pay-per-play model in the youth sector….There are so many things that aren’t yet connected the way they should be connected. America is such a huge, fascinating place. I think it’s going to take years to get it all right….We don’t have a system in place like France or Germany or even South American countries. If you look at the FA in England, it’s more than 100 years old and they already have their infrastructure, scouting, coaches’ education, national training center, and the pyramid is connected. There’s relatively little infrastructure work to do in England because it’s all there.”

To summarize, everybody is moving in separate directions when they ought to be moving in a single unified direction under strong centralized leadership. Only once this happens will countries like the USA and Canada have a shot of joining the ranks of true footballing nations. But it requires true intelligent leadership.

WSA Winnipeg Endnotes

Congratulations to Jason DeVos on being named Canada Soccer’s director of development. In the newly created role, he will be responsible for the overall management, direction and development of coaching and grassroots development programs across Canada.

The need to play soccer the Canadian Way!

 

Soccer Flag“How should Canadians play soccer” 

In our fifth in a series of 7 discussions on opportunities for soccer development in Manitoba and Canada, we will look at the need to have a Canadian style of play.

At the International level, the best football countries in the world have always possessed a unique ability to mould the style of soccer they play based on their country’s image and strengths. A country’s soccer fingerprint, soccer DNA, which is intimately associated with the country’s core values. A country’s soccer DNA drives the behaviours and performance of the players and leaves a clearly defined legacy.

From Brazil to Spain, from Argentina to Holland, from Italy to Germany, from Cameroon to France, or Spain or Romania: over the course of history, the greatest countries tend to wield such influence that they are able to shape the entire organization into a reflection of their country, values and vision. Considering that we need to ask ourselves, “How should Canadians play soccer?” or in other words, “What should be our Canadian way to play soccer?”

Before we answer that, first we need to find out what are the Canadian values as a society with regards to sports. Every society has values that are important to it and that set it apart from other societies. This statement holds true for the Canadian society. There are values that are important to Canadians that are not be fully shared by other societies. Canadians feel that these values are what make Canada an attractive place to live.

Canada has long been recognized for its peace-keeping role around the world. Canadians are seen as polite, sometimes too polite. We often say sorry or excuse me even when other people bump into us. Canadian values include freedom, respect for cultural differences and a commitment to social justice.

The best way to see Canadian values in sports is to take a look at hockey and by looking at that we see that we are:

  • Hard working,
  • Physically fit,
  • Tactically Intelligent,
  • Never give up attitude,
  • Creative,
  • Disciplined.

We need to bring these attributes to soccer. However, is that simple? How do we bring our hockey attributes to the soccer pitch?


What should be our “Canadian style” of soccer? What should be the “Canadian way” to play soccer?

Now that we have responded to what we stand for we need to find a way to incorporate who we are into our Canadian soccer style of play.

This way we implement a vision that matches our Canadian DNA and Canadian core values, in short a vision that suits our nation and our players.

Based on this we need to look at which style of play will suit us best?

A style of play is the way in which the particular system of play chosen by a team is used. Like playing systems, the choice and success of the style of play will depend upon the abilities of each player and the overall qualities of the team.

However, one must not forget other external factors which can play a part in choosing or adapting a particular style. Different teams often have totally contrasting styles, depending upon a country tradition or the personal philosophy of the coach. Examples of the different styles of play seen in soccer are listed below.

ATTACKING STYLE 

  • Direct Play
  • Slow build-up play
  • Counter-attacking play
  • Total Football

DEFENDING STYLE

  • Block defending
  • High pressure play
  • Low pressure play – (Parking the bus)

One could say that at the end of the day it is down to the coach to define the team’s playing style in order to make best use of the abilities and knowledge of the players at his disposal.

Or

We can be revolutionary in our thinking.


Solutions

The Need for a Canadian National Soccer Identity and Revolutionary thinking

As a country, we have to know what we want from our athletes. To have a lifetime of sport and to be healthy, to be athletes in the limits of social life or to be high-performance athletes? Let’s take a look at them one by one.

The sport of “beauty” or “athlete for life” is done without goals. Pleasure must come from participation in training. Let’s face it, in nature we are not all endowed with all the same physical and mental qualities, not everybody is born a predator with a competitive spirit or as strong as some others. Sports halls are filled not only with national champions, but are also filled with people in which satisfaction that comes from participation and camaraderie.

Sport performance (not to say small performance) is the limit in which the athlete can devote themselves to the sport. Some of us do not have the good fortune of having a social situation which allows us to spend our youth in the gym and the soccer field.

We go to work, to school, to kindergarten, and so on. The athlete must be aware that the level at which they enter in competitions is not high and the results will not be as expected.

High-performance sport instead is more demanding. We have to make sacrifices and satisfaction comes only from the results. We cannot resist or exist to long in high performance sport if we don’t have results that please us.

Our goal as a country should be to give athletes the chance to perform at their maximum potential. “Maximum Potential” means that all the four important parameters to be at the highest level.

The four important parameters are: 

  1. technique,
  2. tactics,
  3. physical conditioning,
  4. mental (psychological) conditioning.

In my opinion, the most important parameters are intelligence, character and attitude which are included in the mental (psychological) component.

There is not one without the other and the evolution in a sports contest is a mean between these parameters. Obviously, each parameter has a minimum threshold above which the athlete must pass, and you have to cope with them as soon as possible.

Then you start to work to maximize the capacity within the 4 parameters. If an athlete does not exceed the minimum limit for a parameter, the median for all parameters will tend towards 0. It’s like the multiplying by 0. For example if your technique, tactics and psyche are at level 10 and, if your conditioning fails at 1 minute into the match. The inevitable result will be 0.

CONCLUSION: The level at which an athlete performs in competition is strictly linked to the four parameters: technique, tactics, physical conditioning and psychologically.

EDUARDO’S ADVICE:

  1. Increase the minimum limit in each parameter, and then try to maximize them and customized (parameters) according to the qualities of each player.
  2. Help the player to understand that in order to be a high performance player they need to make sure they perform well in:
  • Possession (when you have the ball)
  • Defending (when you don’t have the ball)
  • Transition from defensive to offensive
  • Transition from offence to defence

The need for a new player development principle of play and curriculum, from 10 years old to international players, that will help us reach our maximum potential as a nation. 

The Beginning – The Canadian Way Video 

The video is an example of how the new “Canadian Philosophy and Player Development Curriculum” should work. A detailed framework, aims, objectives and contents that will be a tremendous value and hopefully help to raise the standards, performance and expectations of the Canadian players from 10 years old to the International senior level. The curriculum should also include approaches to teaching, learning and assessment, quality of relationships between coach and the player and the values embodied by the Canadian Soccer Association, but most importantly to introduce the same or similar philosophies and styles of play across the provinces at all levels .


Final Words

We need a Canadian team that plays “The Canadian Way” with wide-eyed intensity; harrying and chasing in midfield to restrict space and suffocate their opponents’ attacking instincts, a Canadian team that demands assertiveness , determination and commitment from his players, a team packed with fast  players, playing a combative style. A Canadian team that plays compact, ruthless on the counter, but keeping possession if necessary and impossible to break down. The core beliefs should be based on the Canadian values in the strength of the collective, continuous striving for self-improvement, fierce commitment to the cause and approaching the game like there is no tomorrow. We need players that adapt easily to any tactics. Canada needs a collective group of hard working players who always want the best for the team and country, who battles for every ball during every minute of each match with a winning attitude that nobody wants to lose.

We need a Canadian team with a great team spirit, like a family who embraces the multiculturalism that Canada is well known for.

Barcelona remains the ultimate template for long-term team development, but their successful era was achieved thanks to a consistent philosophy over a few decades. In Canada soccer, such long-term thinking is sorely lacking.

What we need in Canada is a template for long term development that includes our Canadian core values and does not change from year to year. We can add the trends in soccer but not change our template .

We do not need to copy the Tiki –Taka method of play, because it does not match our Canadian DNA. We need one that matches how Canadians play. One that matches who we are and what we stand for. One that matches our demographics and then and only then we can say we have a Canadian style of play.

While Canada’s high performance athletes strive for the podium at every opportunity, their world-class performances will instil a sense of pride in our country and the maple leaf from coast to coast to coast.

We need to rethink and rewrite everything from scratch. We should pay attention to developing youth soccer and the academies should receive funding to allow players to play for free. Give the players specialized coaching to develop their skills in a professional environment. The soccer reforms should not just be words on paper but administered to the letter as other countries did it before us and then and only then we will have a Canadian way a Canadian Style of soccer and play in the world cup every 4 years. 


WSA Blog Footnote

WSA is pleased to offer these blogs on topics and issues of interest to our soccer communities.

WSA individually trough Eduardo Badescu and collective knowledge, experience and perspective, locally and internationally, prompts us to offer these thoughts for the consideration of all interested parties.

Our blogs are put forward in the interest of the betterment of soccer, from the local to the national scene. We emphasize that they are offered in the spirit of service to our community at large.

We hope these views will inspire positive and constructive debate amongst all who love our beautiful game ,and should these ideas find resonance within any of the many clubs and associations,

We are eager to be involved in the proceeding developments.