We continue to make patient but certain strides forward with regard to the phased-in implementation of Long-Term Player Development principles across the province. For some Districts and Clubs it has been a very seamless transition but we realize that for others it remains a work in progress. There are challenges to be sure, even for those Clubs who have already successfully taken steps to move forward with LTPD, because it its indeed a cultural shift for all of us.
I want to provide an update while assuring you that we are working on a Club Development Plan that will, to the best of our ability, strive to meet the needs of all of our (700 plus) Clubs, including our medium and smaller-sized Clubs. Specifically, as we move to September and begin preparations for a new indoor season and the 2013 outdoor season:
- We are developing detailed documents and resources that will hopefully give Clubs the assistance and guidance they need to a) understand what LTPD really means (and also what it doesn’t) at the different development stages and b) why we are moving forward with these changes to our competitive structure.
- We are very aware of all the questions that have been raised around LTPD. In fact, we receive feedback, comments and questions on a weekly basis. While many Clubs are reporting excellent progress (and favourable results, in terms of player and parent satisfaction) we also know that there will be stumbles along the way.
- In October we will embark on a major initiative to reach out and consult with as many stakeholders as we can. (We will communicate with you soon about dates, times and locations for the upcoming sessions.) But as I mentioned above, we are already communicating regularly with a number of coaches as well as Club Board members and administrators who have sought clarification on various points.
What LTPD really means
It’s perhaps important to re-state a few things about LTPD. We are absolutely focused on, in conjunction with our Clubs, doing a better job of developing our young players—whether they want to play strictly “for fun” or have aspirations to achieve a future in soccer at a high level. Clubs have done many good things over the years, but it has become clear that the “winning” mentality had to shift at the early ages. Far too many Clubs, along with their coaches and some parents, were driven by game results at the ages of 7, 8, 9 and 10. This has led to not only poor player development outcomes, but also thousands of youngsters unnecessarily leaving soccer because they were anxious, unhappy or simply didn’t have the skills to be able to continue playing the game comfortably.
Feedback we’ve received
- We’ve had feedback from people saying, “we don’t care what the rest of the soccer world is doing—this is Canada”. But the fact is, we are well behind what most of the best soccer countries are doing, and those countries are all focused on the best ways to develop players. And it is now universally accepted that focusing on winning games at the early ages is not how to do it. Having said that, we are not, as some media outlets keep saying, “killing competition”. In fact, there will be plenty of competition for players at all age groups and all levels of ability. We’re simply shifting the focus, especially at the early agrees.
- One concern expressed is that LTPD will be too expensive to implement. The fact is that as Clubs prioritize and develop their business models, LTPD should not be punitive in the least. Regardless of whether Clubs intend to join the new Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) Clubs need to invest in their coaches. If they have not done that, then now is the time. Our players deserve the best we can offer, especially considering what families are spending for our services.
- We also hear that LTPD is “only about developing elite players”. Let me be clear: LTPD will help us identify more players in every corner of the province who have the passion and ability to advance in soccer. That is indeed one of the objectives behind LTPD. But LTPD is so much more than finding a few more elite players. Our current player pathway has been broken for some time now. It needs to be streamlined so there is an understandable, unified approach to developing our young players. We need to provide the right development environment so youngsters will get comfortable on the ball, enhance their skills and have the comfort and self-assurance to make plays under pressure—so that when winning really does matter, they are ready to play with absolute confidence in games.
Going forward, we need to spend less time debating this shift in philosophy and much more on actually training our coaches to help our youngsters love the game and get better every day on the practice field. Our coaching certification programs have improved measurably in the last year and there is more to come. We will soon have more—and better-equipped—coaches than ever before.
Small Clubs need not fear change
- Our job is to assist you, and also help you recognize that if you want to, for example, focus exclusively on recreational soccer, you should do precisely that. As before, strive to take your players as far as you can, and then pass them off to a Club or Academy that can take those players to the next level in their individual development. Feel pride in what you helped to develop, rather than frustration at “losing” a talented and aspiring player. They deserve the opportunity to advance as far as they can. You will ultimately be recognized for your contribution.
- We need to work together—from smaller Clubs to larger Clubs, Academies, all the way up to Toronto FC—so our provincial pathway works for our young players as well as coaches and referees who want a future in the game as well. Just like our school system “hands off” youngsters from elementary to high school and ultimately college or university and the work place, youth soccer Clubs do the same, and should feel pride in their role in the player development process.
- LTPD is just re-shaping what we are already doing. There will not be unnecessary costs to Clubs and parents due to radical field changes and the need for more coaches. In fact LTPD will be more cost effective in many ways as there will be more efficient use of fields.
- In some cases fewer coaches will be required as we move to Clubs structuring practice and competition in groups/rosters (i.e. U9 development stage) that have qualified coaches setting curriculum. Those coaches will also oversee programs, with support from parents and other helpers to deliver those programs and activities.
- Our Clubs are the hub of Ontario soccer. That will, thankfully, never change. But we can always do things even better. And that now includes working with instead of fighting one another. LTPD will help eliminate player “poaching”. It will take us away from promotion and relegation to instead ensuring that Clubs adhere to high standards, rather than building their teams with the biggest, oldest and fastest players they can get at the early ages to ensure “promotion”. That approach doesn’t help develop players in the least and some of Canada’s best players, including Dwayne De Rosario and Diana Matheson, keep telling us that. They are huge supporters of LTPD.
Please keep in mind that “player development” means a lot of things. It has to do with the physical development of youngsters, yes, and their technical soccer skills, but also their social and emotional growth. We’ve often done a very poor job in that regard and that needs to improve—and it will, as we integrate LTPD.
I’m firmly of the belief that, 10 years from now, even critics of LTPD will come to recognize this isn’t just a fuzzy academic exercise or a passing fad but a commitment to actually putting players and their development first. We can always find excuses for wanting to maintain the status quo, but there has been an elephant in the room of Ontario soccer for far too long, and it’s time we got rid of it. And that elephant is an approach that makes winning all-important at the early ages and leaves too many youngsters behind in the name of short-term gratification. Some Clubs and coaches (and even some parents) don’t want to let go, and that’s a shame.
Take a moment to visit the LTPD section of our OSA web site and review even one or two of the articles that demonstrate the positive impact of proper youth development. In those articles, you will see why top coaches from so many countries have already moved in this direction, and didn’t let “critics” stop legitimate progress. Tellingly, many “critics” screamed about “small-sided games” 20 years ago, but that is now a standard—and invaluable—element of player development. We can’t stand still.
We will do everything we can as an Association to support you, our Clubs. We hope you will support us, and one another, in the days ahead.
OSA Chief Technical Officer
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