As we enjoy the summer months I just wanted to connect with parents and coaches across the province again to update you on an important aspect of our ongoing implementation of Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) principles.
As some of you are aware, LTPD is being phased in throughout Ontario over the next few years. This will ultimately lead to a clear, unified player pathway and an opportunity for many more of our young players to stay in the game and reach their real individual potential.
One of the first things we are doing is integrating the LTPD approach at the early ages. Specifically, this season we have moved away from the traditional tournaments to “Festival” events throughout the province in the U8 age group and below. A number of our Districts have also progressed to implement “Festival” events for players in U9 and U10 age groups in-line with the future LTPD changes within Ontario. These Festivals bring together youngsters for a day of competition and fun. Moving away from league and tournament schedules means far less travel-time for parents, and importantly, more opportunities for youngsters to actually train with their coaches and have a ball at their feet.
Festival games are played on smaller-sized fields with fewer players on the pitch. There is no formal scorekeeping, so there is an opportunity to play creatively, without fear of making “mistakes” and “losing games” as a result of trying tricks and turns that the youngsters have worked on in practice. We want our young players to try things, be creative and work on improving their skills, without the fear of failure.
While this approach is indeed new for us (though already long in place in other parts of the soccer-playing world) and has been an adjustment for some parents, the feedback we continue to receive is overwhelmingly positive and supportive. There will be plenty of serious competition for our players as they move through the “system”, but at the early ages, our focus will continue to be on skills development and ensuring that all of our players enjoy the soccer experience.
I’d like to share some comments that we have received about the Festivals. Bobby Lennox, the Technical Director of the York Region Soccer Association, just sent me a note with the following:
With almost 100 games, during two YRSA under 8, 5v5, weekend festivals successfully in the vault, I think we can now confidently look back and say, "I’m very glad we have done this, this is good".
To see 8 year-old boys and girls playing and having fun, on field and goal sizes that add to the enjoyment, we can all be proud of what was accomplished.
With the stress of a results-driven environment removed from the adults (coaches and parents) they can now let the young players play with freedom and creativity without the fear of making mistakes and potentially losing a game.
To witness, for example, the Aurora girls coach encourage his goalkeepers (there are many as they rotate positions) put the ball down and dribble up the field, to a background of cheers and claps from parents, tells me we are on the right track. The ear-to ear-smiles from the goalkeeper and her teammates as she dribbled the ball was the icing on the cake.
As coaches from various clubs gather in groups to talk soccer and share ideas, it can only improve the environment and the experience for our young players.
The Technical Director of the Durham Soccer Association, Sanford Carabin, also has found that the Festivals are generating a very enthusiastic response:
The U8 Festivals held in the Durham District to date have been very well received by all the member Clubs, coaches, referees, parents and players. Member clubs have been very pro-active in their organization and management of the one-day Festivals. The coaches—while initially skeptical of the validity of the Festival format—have been pleasantly surprised at the overall level of play and have shown their support by registering all their teams for each Festival. Referees have reported zero sideline behavioural issues and both the parents and players have responded very positively to the format.
We continue to hear that the atmosphere on the sidelines is indeed much better, which in turn makes the experience for the youngsters that much healthier.
Again, we fully understand that it will take time for everyone to see the benefits of this initiative. In the short term, some will focus solely on the idea that we are not giving youngsters a chance to play a lot of games and “compete”. The truth is, the most important thing at the young ages is not playing a lot of games, but learning the skills needed to be good at the sport so that, when winning does really become important, players will be ready for that challenge. Youngsters need lots of touches and time on the ball. To reach their potential, they need to develop confidence and need to be able to play without fear of making what we adults call “mistakes”.
Again, thanks to all those who continue to support these initiatives. We will begin to see the results on—and off—the pitch in the months and years ahead.
OSA Chief Technical Officer
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