The motivation that makes you say “I can do more … I want more!”

Having writing a blog for a while, being away a little long too long but my motivation for, this subject concerned me from some time so here it is.

This is the first of my two-part analysis of coaching in youth soccer as it relates to player motivation and player retention in our game.

Part One will consider the factors that lead to youth players leaving the game. 

Part Two will offer coaching concepts and strategies that will motivate players to remain in the game, whether it be in a pursuit of excellence, or simply as a recreational activity.


I don’t think I’m alone when I say that we need to change how our coaches interact with our youth athletes. A coach’s concern regarding a soccer match is quite different than a player’s or a fan’s. A coach observes the psychological indicators of success or failure in sport. Coaches are interested in a player’s perception of the game, their emotion on the ground, how they coordinate their attention, how they adjust their physical and visual intensity in an effective way, what motivates them, if they show distracted attention, and especially what attitude they manifest on the ground.

Coaches are interested in player’s level of psychological training for the game and how that training can be used to predict success or competitive failure. All Coaches must be seeing the same thing as I am. Together, we watch a player step onto the pitch and the lights go out… the joy and passion for the game withers away as creativity drops, and players become terrified of making mistakes. 


Why Players Quit Soccer?

The “light” in a player’s eyes often goes out once they reach the competitive level. What I mean is that a player’s love for the game, which is present up to ages 10 or 11, is somehow lost. They are “pumped” to play the game, then something happens. By the time players are into the third or fourth year of competitive play, around 16 years old, they lose their enthusiasm. They go from excitement about playing to apathy or outright resentment. 

How do we produce a thriving life-long soccer culture that doesn’t have this problem?


What NOT to Do: The Toxic Habit of Rewards

Let’s start with an idea about what not to do. Here is the reason that I think the “light goes out”. ELITE players playing soccer are attracted by the opportunities that soccer can offer and not by the so “called love of the game”. We have a poisonous habit in soccer that I call it our toxic habit.

An interesting experiment illustrates the toxic habit that can kill the love of soccer.  The experiment was carried out with a group of children passionate about the drawing. They spent two or three hours drawing whatever they were inspired to create. At one point, a psychologist comes in and offers 100 euros for each drawing. The cheerful children accepted, and said, “What a good thing, 100 euros is more than nothing, and I like to draw anyway.” So far, everything is perfect, the children have received an extra gift beyond that of investing in their passion for drawing. 

The next day, the psychologist offers the following challenge before starting work: “I have only 10 euros to offer for your board – who wants to draw something beautiful?” This time, the children considered the offer intensely, and rationalized the following: “10 euros is less than 100, but more than nothing, and anyway I like to draw”. As you see, their motivation is still the pleasure of drawing, so they accepted. You would think say that everything is fine, but after only about 20 minutes, the first children raised their hands saying they had finished the drawing and wanted their reward. We can conclude that the first visible effects on their behavior are those related to work ethic, the desire to give everything, to investing in their work with what they have the most – passion and dedication. 

On the third day, the psychologist returns to the drawing circle and asks them to draw, but without any rewards: This time the children say that, “I do not like to draw anymore”! We only need two days to destroy a passion by offering positive external rewards. 

This is not the only study that points out how the “carrot-and-stick” approach destroys the love of the game. There has been about 30 years of research that says the same things according to a significant researcher in the field and a large review of scientific research point to one clear point:  when athletes feel pressured to behave through the use of rewards, it hurts the player in the long run. Relying on rewards is our toxic habit!

 I can’t count the number of times when I’ve seen a player on a developmental team be promised a chance to move up to a premier team if he does X or Y, and then the promise is not fulfilled. Rewards don’t help and unfulfilled promises are twice as deadly! Too much focus on money, adoration, and other rewards can distract attention from love of the game. When the promised results are delayed or withdrawn, the athlete loses his passion. Passion is a motivating, intrinsic, long-lasting factor that can be easily destroyed through negative experiences (defeats, quarrels, traumas) or even positive rewards. It’s not working and it hurts players. 

Basically, we have to STOP relying on rewards:

  • Stop dangling to chance to be part of a “special academy” or program in front of players as a performance incentive.
  • Stop making decisions without explaining the rational to players (not parents) – transparency in decision making.
  • Stop incentives other than merit-based decisions  
  • Stop promising more than we can deliver – example: promising the chance to pay professionally here or in Europe when we can’t control selection.
  • Stop lying to kids about potential when it may not be there.

The toxic habit is the WAY that players are motivated by coaches and their organizations. It is a big problem when coaches emphasize reward systems when 30 years of research says that it doesn’t help players develop and it degrades the love of the game. 


1 Robert Vallerand: “Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sport and physical activity: A review and a look at the future.”

2 Bartholomew, K., Ntoumanis, N., Ryan, R., Bosch, J., & Thøgersen‐ Ntoumanis, C.: “Self‐determination

theory and diminished functioning: The role of interpersonal control and psychological need thwarting.”.

3Carpentier, J., & Mageau, G.: “When change‐oriented feedback enhances motivation, well‐being and performance: A look at autonomy‐supportive feedback in sport.”

4 Roberts, G., Treasure, D.., & Conroy, D.: “Understanding the dynamics of motivation in sport and physical activity: An achievement goal interpretation.”

5 Hager & Chatzisarantis: “Causality orientations moderate the undermining effect of rewards on intrinsic motivation”

6 Harrolle & Klay: “Understanding the Role of Motivation in Professional Athletes”.

The motivation that makes you say “I can do more … I want more!” (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second of my two-part analysis of coaching in youth soccer as it relates to player motivation and player retention in our game.

Part One considered the factors that lead to youth players leaving the game. 

Part Two will offer coaching concepts and strategies that will motivate players to remain in the game, whether it be in a pursuit of excellence, or simply as a recreational activity.

Part one of this analysis can be viewed in an earlier post.


What to Do: Good Coaching Practices

If you do a quick look at the scientific research literature on athlete motivation, you will find close to 500 English articles on the topic of athlete motivation written in the last 10 years. The research is really consistent: players who have this love of the game show positive outcomes and a whole host of characteristics that we all want in soccer. 

I like the phrase “excellence is a habit”. People are habit-dependent. We are creators and followers of habits. When we do something, we do it because we are motivated, because we have a need. When motivation and need are lacking, we may do things simply because we have become accustomed to them. How do we break these habits that keep us at a lower level? The motivation that makes a player say “I can be more … I want more” is a habitual skill that can be trained. On the day of competition, we either rise to our personal aspirations drown in our own habits. 


Here is what we can change to promote the development of the habits that lead to excellence. There are two areas to focus on if coaches want to train for a love of the game. 

Support Player Autonomy

One way that it is discussed is called “Player Autonomy” linked to “intrinsic motivation”. This comes from famous work by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. Player autonomy is the sense of freedom that a player has where she feels like she can make her own choices. The opposite is when players feel controlled and micromanaged by a coach. Player autonomy is a personal sense that he has the freedom to regulate his own actions and is empowered to make choices for himself in terms of decision making in the game and in terms of decision making about the wider sport career. 

Players who are in situations where their autonomy is supported tend to be more intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation is when a player wants to play because she finds the sport rewarding in its own right. No external rewards are necessary. Intrinsically motivated players are the ones that love the game. 

Good coaching requires supporting player autonomy and supporting intrinsic motivation. According to research, this means doing the following:

  • Be Empathetic: Give players time to correct bad habits YES
    • Players will NOT say: “Often, my coach keeps giving me the same correctives during a same training session, without giving me the time needed to correct them.”
  • Offer choices: Offer players many ideas to correct mistakes and let players choose which one they prefer. 
    • Players will say: “My coach often suggests many ideas to correct my mistakes. He then lets me choose the one I prefer.”
  • Provide clear & realistic objectives: Provide a clear big-picture strategy that puts correction in context.
    • Players will say: “When my coach wants me to correct something, I know which objective this change will eventually allow me to reach.”
  • Avoid person-related statements: Critique is about the sport-related behaviour and not the personalities of the players. 
    • Players will NOT say: “I often feel that there are personal attacks in the way my coach tells me that he is not satisfied with my performance.”
  • Pair critique with clear direction: Offer clear tips when giving feedback about poor performance.
    • Players will say: “When my coach is not satisfied with my: performance, he gives me tips so that I can improve in the future.”

Support Mastery Motivation

The second way that the love of the game is described by researchers is called mastery motivation. Mastery motivation is when a player is driven to master aspects of the sport. A player who is high in mastery motivation is driven to improve himself and sees himself as the person to beat. It is about getting better because one is driven to master soccer and this is different from performance motivation. 

Players motivated to master skills and always improve, are driven to compete against themselves, competently demonstrate better performance, value looking good in their own eyes, and take feedback as tips for how to do better. Mastery-driven players are motivated to learn new skills, use new skills, use feedback from players and coaches (coachable), keep going in the face of challenge (resilience), and take risks and innovate (confidence). 

Performance motivation is when players are motivated to improve because they want feedback on their performance. A player that is driven by performance motivation craves approval of others and so this form of motivation is also called “ego” or “egocentric” motivation. In the long run, these players show lower competence, lower resilience, high drop-out rates, poor sportsmanship, and undermine positive team chemistry. 

Reward systems are what lead to performance motivation. In contrast, good coaching involves doing the little things that train mastery motivation. According to research, this means doing the following:

  • Avoid comments about comparing players. 
    • These comments look like “Where you better than Sally today?”, “You’re the best on the team.”, or “Sally’s passing technique is better than yours.”
  • Address skills and techniques that are performed well when you wish to compare payers.
    • These comments look like “Watch closely how Tommy receives the ball. What do you see him doing?”

The key to creating mastery motivation is to train players to identify their own goals. Goal setting is crucial to promote mastery-motivation and so coaches should encourage players to use S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.

  • Specific goals are easy to understand.
    • Example: “shoulder check during the game”
  • Measurable goals provide players a strong sense of accomplishment.
    • Example: “touch the ball 12 hours a week”
  • Achievable goals are easy to maintain.
    • Example: “make three successful passes during your game”
  • Realistic goals can be player specific.
    • Example: “perform the roll over that you’ve been practicing”
  • Timely goals allow for development within a game, or the course of a season.
    • Example: “keep improving your roll over through the season”

Some researchers started from the well-known fact that rewards destroy love for the game. They found that players who could develop a sense of freedom could be resilient to the destructive effects of rewards. Rewards do not impact people if they can be helped to develop their own autonomy. The formula is simple: if you want players that love the game, support player autonomy and mastery motivation.


Moving Forward

The bottom line is that coaches can create a culture where players achieve higher levels of excellence in all aspects of the sport, whether they be technical skills, tactical IQ, physical training, or psychological self-mastery. Coaches have a huge role in creating the kinds of players that have higher levels of well-being and the ability to bounce back in the face of challenge. Most importantly, coaches can play a huge role in creating players who stick around because they love to play. Players who have been given an honest reading of the opportunities and expectations related to them in the game will have a healthy and vigorous motivation to continue at whatever level suits them. Let’s take some of what we know about research, and put resources into training coaches when they work towards their CSA licensing. This means teaching coaches how to create a culture that isn’t contaminated by the toxic habit of rewards and evaluating coaches on their ability to foster such a culture.

Looking forward, there are some other basic changes we can make to support the love of the game. Soccer is becoming a big business in Canada with 200,000 more kids registered in soccer than hockey. The approaching World Cup in 2026 and the start of the CPL all point to the fact that soccer is becoming a lucrative investment. This could be a great danger or a great opportunity, depending on how we approach investment

A study that just came out this year was based on a small sample of professional athletes and the researchers conducted detailed interviews. Although the study was small, these case studies revealed an important angle on investment. It becomes easy to focus on the business of investment, but the researchers noted that it is important to see players as the most important resource a club possesses. 

Investment should be directed to players first and, clubs or regulating bodies second. Investing in the players’ development is what matters to the real success of an organization. What can we do to make sure we think about investment in the way that prioritizes players’ development? We can promote the athletes and to help them grow even more through improved equipment, superior teams, more money for tournaments, money for recovery and highly qualified coaches, etc.


Background

In researching some materials from this blog, I would like to thank Prof. Jim Creswell for his assistance 


  1.  Robert Vallerand: “Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sport and physical activity: A review and a look at the future.”
  2.  Bartholomew, K., Ntoumanis, N., Ryan, R., Bosch, J., & Thøgersen‐ Ntoumanis, C.: “Self‐determination theory and diminished functioning: The role of interpersonal control and psychological need thwarting.”.
  3. Carpentier, J., & Mageau, G.: “When change‐oriented feedback enhances motivation, well‐being and performance: A look at autonomy‐supportive feedback in sport.”
  4.  Roberts, G., Treasure, D.., & Conroy, D.: “Understanding the dynamics of motivation in sport and physical activity: An achievement goal interpretation.”
  5.  Hager & Chatzisarantis: “Causality orientations moderate the undermining effect of rewards on intrinsic motivation”
  6.  Harrolle & Klay: “Understanding the Role of Motivation in Professional Athletes”.

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”.

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.

Cut Graphic

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!

Blog Graphic


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!