Stemming from my last blog, I had another really interesting exchange with a few people about one of the points that I made; why I don’t understand the large push the CSA and Provincial Bodies have put on not including Academies in the Canadian player development system.

One comment I received on twitter was:

Giving academies club status is all about money though and cuts out kids on cost.


Let me preface my views by saying that my involvement in the system in BC/Canada is firstly as a player. Secondly I run a couple of small summer camps in North Vancouver (approx 100 kids) and a College Showcase at Easter time. I have worked with both clubs and academies, so I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the workings of both.

These are my thoughts on the Academy v Club Discussion in Canada

1.    Academies/Clubs: What’s the Difference?

Going back to the point Paul C made, and a point that I often here brought up in the discussions about why academies are often shunned in the general make-up of the Canadian system; the view that they are a cash grab and will serve to make quality training out of reach for the average kid.

My initial reaction to that point is, haven’t most clubs turned into academies anyways? Where I live there are two clubs in the immediate area. Both clubs have academies with fees that are comparable to local academies.

I have spoken with a couple of mom’s that I know who have daughters that are good players; both have said to be that nowadays, most kids that want to play at the top level, get extra training from an early age. So in addition to their club fee, most players are paying anyways to get extra training, outside of the once a week club training.

So the question then becomes, if parents are paying money to an academy within their club, or taking their money to an academy outside the club, what’s the difference? Both are additional costs, and both seem to be the norm/necessary for kids who have set their sights on playing at the top level of soccer.

2. “I Don’t Go Into a Bakery and Tell the Baker How to Bake a Cake”

I had a friend from another country that was involved with a club here in Vancouver. He has the ability to come up with killer one-liners out of nowhere, and the above baker quote was one of his more classic ones. He was describing his frustration in his involvement with a local club, dealing with parents and board members, with no experience in soccer at the highest level, telling him how to do his job.

People have asked me why I don’t get more involved with local clubs. Furthermore, those that are people I would describe as having a high level soccer IQ have told me to avoid it at all costs. This is because as my friend Mr. One-liner, who we will call John, said in clubs there are too many bakers, bankers, lawyers and accountants making decisions in youth soccer clubs that have ramifications on our soccer playing population. Its frustrating for people with that knowledge in how to make things better, to be living in a system that is not set up for their voice to be heard.

I have experience on a personal level with this. In January I was asked to be on the board that was submitting a proposal to get a HPL Franchise. For those of you not from BC, it is a new league for the top players in BC. Of 15 people in the room, made up of club presidents etc making decisions that will influence the future of BC’s elite players for the next generation, I counted perhaps 4 that had played soccer at the university level. Another time I was asked to be a director for Tryouts for a local club (which I completely disagree with the principle of, but that’s for another blog). I lasted in the job for about 2 days, as my inbox took about a month’s worth of messages from board members with little soccer experience, arguing with each other over the best way to do the job. I sat receiving these cc-ed messages, and pretty quickly decided my time and expertise could probably be better used elsewhere.

My point? Right now in Canada there are too many people that don’t know the game making very influential decisions on its direction. This starts at the club level where the Boards are often made up of parents who have never played or coached the game at a high level

From what I have seen with academies, they are, for the most part, made up of people with higher soccer IQ’s than the average club. Furthermore academies are run as businesses; they are able to get things done and make decisions that benefit the players, using soccer-minds to make those decisions minus the bureaucracy of the boards that drive clubs.

Because of those reasons, I don’t understand the desire for the CSA and Provincial Bodies to shut them out of mainstream player development, or at least allow them to form proper clubs to be able to have the advantages and voice of lying within the system.

I think its safe to say that if we had soccer coaches doing an engineer’s job and building bridges that there’d be a car or five in the ocean. Those ocean-bound cars are a good metaphor for our youth soccer system is, as I don’t think anyone would want to drive over a bridge built by a soccer coach.

3. Where is All the Money Going?

One of the calls after the Canada/France loss was for a women’s professional league to start up. Inevitably in the next breath came the voice of many asking where the money would come from and lamenting the lack of money in Canada for the women’s game.

I just finished my Masters Thesis comparing women’s soccer in Norway and Canada and opportunity to combine education and soccer. I have spent hours pouring over statistics, ones that outline that there are approximately 400,000 girls playing soccer in Canada.

As someone that was playing soccer an ocean away from my friends and family, I couldn’t help looking at those statistics wondering where all the money goes, and why couldn’t Canada be doing more with that money?

What do clubs do with all the money from player registrations? There is a club in my area that at one point was sitting on half a million dollars, while female players came home from full scholarships on university and had nowhere to play competitively. This completely contradicts countries that I have played in such as Denmark and Norway, whereby clubs use grassroot player fees to support professional or semi-professional leagues for females year round.

Why do we have a system that doesn’t allow for someone to come in easily and change that, and/or force us into a system that puts no money into giving females a legitimate opportunity to continue playing at a competitive level once they are done university? Again this goes back to point number 2; we have proverbial bakers running soccer clubs and deciding how to distribute the money that is accumulated. At least that’s my best guess as to why things are the way they are.

Generally I see academies with an elite level focus, therefore it seems plausible that they would have an interest in developing a semi-professional or professional game in Canada, over many clubs that from what I can see generally are more amateur/recreationally focused.

4. Lack of Competition = Lack of Accountability

This again is my biggest problem with having this strict disdain for outside groups, whether you call them academies or otherwise, being able to join the mainstream structure. And this again is where I feel Canada will always lag behind until this moratorium on competition is lifted.

If I have the facilities, coaches etc to start a new club, why do Provincial Bodies make it so difficult? Why are existing clubs so keen to protect their turf and not let these academy groups or others into the system? I get that sense so often in the Canadian system; bureaucracy that serves no other purpose than to stem competition.

Competition makes us better.

Quite simply for anyone that has a desire to reach his/her potential, one must crave competition, because competition breeds accountability. Competition is what forces us to dig deep, to be more creative, and to ultimately not take anything for granted. Competition tied in with accountability, makes us not cut corners, it pushes us out of our comfort zone and makes us continually raise the bar.

Having currently a mandate in the Canadian system that negates this kind of competition will only hurt our growth in the end and definitely hurt us on an international stage.

10 thoughts

  1. Great piece. As always, the upside of a news events like the Canadian team crashing out of the world cup is the discussion it sparks. To clarify my points – as you said 140 characters isn’t much.
    The cost of playing at a club varies from $100 to $400. The clubs are non-profit and programs are meant to be kept affordable (the club that you mention that was sitting on $500,000 would have been breaking the law, unless the money was being spent on a capital project like field, dome, clubhouse etc which really is for the good of the player). Academy programs within the clubs generally have some of the cost built in because of a larger membership, so you get most of those programs from $150-300 a season.
    Compare that to the private academies that charge $120 a month.
    Now that’s fine, you want extra training, great. I think the world of TSS and Roman Tulis and think they do a magnificent job training top-end players. But if private academies are allowed to run teams in leagues, then all of a sudden the parents that are the most motivated and have the most money will flock to the private business, which will hire the top coaches, and before you know it, you’ll have to pay thousands to be on competitive teams.
    What does that leave for the family that can’t afford it? Or for the recreational player who doesn’t want to play for Canada, get a scholarship, but wants to go out twice a week and have some fun? Who still would like some professional instruction on how to take a corner properly, but doesn’t need to learn the benefits of a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3? They still pay their taxes for fields and still have a slice of their registration go to the district, the province and the CSA to fund senior programs. Yet they’re left out for the chase of a small percentage of players who get the bulk of the resources.
    I also find some of the characterization of club politics to be a little mean spirited.
    Yes, there are some horrendously out of control egos on boards around the land, and the HPL brought out the worst of them. When the status and ego of a club, a board or an individual gets in the way of the development and fun of the kids, then we’ve failed. But once again, it takes a hell of a lot of work to put on games at every level every weekend. To ensure kids have decent, safe coaching, to have practices, facilities, referees, equpiment, jamborees, medals, pictures. It’s a lot of work and to suggest that the involvement of those in making decisions should only be a. Paid professionals or b. those who have played at the highest level is a little harsh.
    I do think you’ve touched on some great points here and everyone involved in youth soccer has to look at what they’re doing and the key question is to ask yourself why you’re doing it and what your end goal is. If people answer those questions honestly, and then behave in accordance, then everyone will benefit.

  2. Great comments and points Paul.

    Just to volley back a couple of things;

    1. Club sitting on $500,000 put the money into a capital project; new fields. My point in mentioning it, was that it was eye opening to me the kind of money that goes through these local clubs and the potential to use it elsewhere. Ultimately I had to go overseas because there wasn’t the chance to continue playing at a high level here. Would love to find a way to make that change for the next generation of girls, esp knowing there is the money there to do it.

    2. The club v academy debate reminds me of a similar ones on private v public health care. Let me preface it by saying that I came from a family with not a lot of money, and I always think in this day and age if I would have had a chance to develop bc we couldn’t afford the academies. That being said, I have friends that run academies that let talented, lower-income kids come for free. I think most people that I know would never turn away a talented kid bc of money. Maybe I’m idealistic, but that’s been my experience.

    I have 2 points to contribute to the debate:

    a) If academies were given a free market in which to build their membership, couldn’t they as well eventually have the means to have such a large member base that they could lower their rates?

    b) In terms of paying for a high level of coaching–we have the best hockey teams in the world, arguably; and parents are used to paying high prices to have elite level development by top ranked coaches. From a soccer perspective, US scholarships can have a return up to $150,000.

    If kids want to play recreationally, the prices should reflect as such, and I don’t think the level of coaching, that currently exists within the system, would really fluctuate so much, if academies were allowed a spot in the system. I think the current structure of club systems caters to a recreational level of soccer.

    Now cue the debate for the elite v recreational ….I think from the standpoint of elite player development, my only argument is that if parents want to spend the money to have their kids developed by the best, that they shouldn’t have it imposed upon them by a Provincial body where they have to send their kids, or where they spend their money.

    Also, kids should not be penalized by the current system, if they choose to stay at an academy such as a Roman Tulis or TSS because they think they will be better developed then say on the Provincial Team (which costs $2800 up front, plus once all expenses come in for the year, will be about $4000 according to a friend of mine, whose daughter is in the program).

    I guess I just don’t like a system or think its a healthy system, whereby people are having their choices dictated to them.

  3. Clubs/academies vs academies – The issue behind clubs/academies vs academies is that the clubs/academies are competition to one another. Hence with clubs/academies being voting members of the Districts and BCSA it’s going to be hard for the TSS, Tulis and etc to the establish academies. The best way for Canadian academies to move ahead to to increase their numbers and start their own league. This is how the SAAC and GTA academies have their own league. There is enough of them to do it and there isn’t very much the NSO, PSO and others can do about it. This model is also what is done in the USA where they have 4 youth pathways in their development structure –

    In Metro Van where TSS will do it’s best is moving their players into markets the Youth Districts have no say in. PCSL, MWSL and USL. These are the best places for them. Partly as a lot of the youth clubs in Metro Van are not cradle to grave clubs with one or both genders yet. There are a few exceptions like NSGSC, CMFSC, West Van and probably a couple of others that have Res and Pre programs. As RGSA and RYSA found out it takes a lot of work and funding to feed a PCSL franchise where it takes maybe 3 season with a club season to get a good Pre team together if the player pool is narrow and shallow.

    Bakers – Yep there is a ton of them and has been for decades. The big problem is boards not being able to separate themselves from admin and development. More importantly they need to let people who have the time and experience to push things ahead. Paul, I’m not sure if you were round at this time but the VRGSA District was a classical of 2 groups that just didn’t want to get along and forgot all about the kids. Now it’s gone full circle as Rmd and Van are back together due to the HPL as it’s the only way they are going to be competitive.

    Money – Tons of it around and with Rule 23 the families can’t exercise their right to shop with their feet in a sports service industry. I’m not a supporter of Rule 23 and never have been as players are paying in a controlled market.

    Clubs with 1000 kids should be able to bring in 500K+. The cut that goes to Districts is not written in stone but should be across all Districts. The cut that goes to the BCSA/CSA is in stone. Where clubs money should go is to the programs that the reg fee covers.

    I’m not a believer of any lower level supporting a higher level or even on the same levels in a club or district or PSO or NSO. Programs if marketed and run right should break even. If a club or district or PSO or NSO wants to subsidize something or do a capital project the members who pay should vote on it. Example in Van and somewhat a bone of contention is clubs subsidizing the Metro/Selects now VFC to the tune of $20K a season. Parents at the club level never voted on it. In NS District they wanted to do the subsidizing of their new District Metro girls program but the NSGSC members voted against it so the NS District had to run their Metro programs on their own……it was well known the Selects fees were around $1300. Same when NSGSC decided to build their bubble, all members voted on it. Other clubs, say like Rmd don’t even let their parents of the kids who pay the fees vote on elections let alone capital projects like a clubhouse.

    Adult programs including those for college returnees should pay for themselves. To keep the costs down, the best thing to do is to find sponsors. A PCSL program is a good program for college returnees competition wise and league admin is run by a great bunch of guys who are removed from the BCSA stuff

    HPL downfall will be that the player pays when compared to the Junior A and B hockey system they do not. What makes it hard to attract sponsors will be the fact that there are no owners/investors of a franchise. Basically the owners are the members of a club who are better off being called shareholders but not sure how that works with a NPO and the Societies Act

    Until clubs move away from player pays and finds a business model with sponsors and other revenue, the distance between the NA development structure and the European one will continue to grow. Hopefully not at the expense of our NT’s or the youth elite and rec players underneath them.

    I will write some more tomorrow……….

  4. This is all great stuff. However, I think it would be much more productive if we did it face-to-face-to-face, around a table at a pub, preferably.
    Ciara, I agree with most of what you say, but would still be uneasy with a private business being involved in kids amateur sport from a competition standpoint. The people who are involved in it now are honorable to the extreme, but it opens up a can of worms and many of the “pro” coaches floating around the area are shady.
    Still think competition at the youth level belongs in the hands of non-profit societies, but there’s a role here for everyone and you’re right, the $ being thrown about are staggering.
    With those kind of dollars there does need to be more checks and balances and accountability on how that money is spent.
    The turf/field/lights issue is maddening. Most “competitive” teams training through the winter spend 60 minutes jammed on a small slice of turf with three other teams. One great thing about HPL will be the switch of seasons where natural light and grass fields are abundant. More cost efficient, more enjoyable for players and parents too.
    I agree with hockey comparison on cost, soccer is still incredibly cheap, even other sport programs like Drive for basketball is more costly than soccer, so we can’t be afraid to ask people to pay for quality.
    One thing I’ll fight like hell for though, is to make sure every child is served, not just the elite 5 per cent, we need to ensure fairness, value and opportunity for every player.

    Neil, wow, so much in here.
    Yes, was just getting involved when the whole Richmond/Vancouver thing was winding up. I’m not confident of the new “Fusion” deal. Richmond, particularly at the entry levels, has been completely non-involved. At the first meeting last week there was only one Richmond member there, the club badge was unveiled and it’s a “V”, the franchise was referred to many times as “Vancouver Fusion”. Seems like with Richmond’s non-engagement they’re just being used for their fields and can’t see how long that arrangement is going to fly. Does not seem like a good start and can see the Richmond kids being nomads and drifting between Fusion and South Fraser depending on age group.
    And don’t get me started on the VFC subsidy, I’d probably get myself sued if I gave you my true thoughts and my involvement on it.
    The cradle to grave thing is really on our radar and I’ll admit I think it’s long overdue. Particularly for girls, it’s something that has to happen for our club. Loads of places for men to play after they leave the youth circuit, not so much for women, and something we want to fix at our club.
    Last point re the “bakers”, I feel my comments to Ciara were a bit unfair yesterday. She was speaking about a particular issue and I didn’t mean to suggest she doesn’t value the hard work people put in as volunteers.
    However, Neil, you’re right and I’ve seen it on boards for years, people are happy to sign up to help the club, but only to work on player development. Everyone wants to do the “fun” stuff, but no one wants to work on field permits, equipment, referees, registration, discipline etc.
    The entitlement some coaches seem to have with “their” view of how things should be done is astonishing to me. We have two very gifted TDs at our club and we should be looking to them for guidance, not someone who has blinkers on and has a selfish motivation for coaching in the first place. If it doesn’t benefit their kid or feed their ego, then they’re not interested.
    I have seen a U9 coach tell kids that for a particular game, if they lose, they’ll be doing 100 sit ups, if they win, they get McDonalds. I’ve seen coaches lie to the head coaches in order to horde the best players year after year.
    This to me is the biggest problem with Canadian soccer in general. I would say the slight majority of coaches I’ve faced over the years are far too focused on results versus development. Looking back I’d love to ask if those screaming, spittle-shifting, red-faced bullies really believe their antics in the U9 league were worth it? When you went home and felt good about your kick-and-run style that won the game 5-1, did you give pause as to what those kids would leave your tutelage with? How much do those wins mean now, when half your team isn’t playing anymore three years later?
    Bah, I could write about this all day.
    Ciara, thanks once again for providing a buffet of food for thought, and a place for open discussion. .

  5. Hi All,

    Goos stuff here. All been covered in the past in different places here on other soccer blogs. Paul, your daughter is currently an HPL selected player, correct?

    Winning vs Development. Here lies the biggest challenge. I hear people side with development almost 100% of the time these days. Then I go and observe touch line behaviours of coaches who speak this language away from the heat of competiton and watch and listen to how they provide feedback, handle subs etc and many lose their minds and default back to the winning process. Until we collectively stop this default from occuring all the talk in the world is pointless.

    Academy vs Club. Paul- many(not all) of the TD’S in our community run businesses. no deduction are taken at source and when they file their taxes they calim for office space in their house. Sound like a mini TSS to me. This idea of hiding behind non profit status is for the most part samoke and mirrors. Many of these TDs are compensated some portion through user pay activities. Again,my world.


  6. Hey Colin, just saw this now. Good points, and you know I think the world of your program and would recommend it to anyone. My concerns are more philosophical than practical in all honesty. And throughout the soccer hurricane I’ve been through in the last 12 months, one point has become stronger, bolder and more threatening and you nailed it above: ” I go and observe touch line behaviours of coaches who speak this language away from the heat of competiton and watch and listen to how they provide feedback, handle subs etc and many lose their minds and default back to the winning process. Until we collectively stop this default from occuring all the talk in the world is pointless.”
    I couldn’t believe how often I was questioned by parents last year on my subs regarding results. And I’m an awful coach!
    And on the claiming for office space, you’re talking about Gregor, aren’t you?

  7. Gregor? try almost all TDs in the lower mainland not being paid as employees. I challenge you to find me some that are( the full time ones specifically)

  8. Old discussion, still valid 3 years after it was posted…

    I’ve been in both systems. I was not born in Canada, but I have now a good feeling of what football is in Ontario, both in an Academy and at a city club. Yes, bakers. But I cannot find a simpler way to reconciliate the two approaches but making them into one.
    Clubs have a top-down approach to football. If Canada’s level will ever improve, it has to reach to a wider audience of players at all levels of development. Clubs merely focus on their Rep teams and they have a House League for recreational purposes. It is either the best of the club or the worst. There is no gradual development, no gradual levels of players.
    Academies (in my experience, that may be different in general) focus on an excellent individual player development but SAAC has not that many academies affiliated so teams play against each other every weekend and that becomes non-competitive due to the lack of more teams to play against.
    Clubs have no bottom-up approach. Kids who have advanced a bit in their development at House League and find it too basic go for a tryout at a Rep team. Once they are kicked out then they lose interest in the sport and go play basketball, baseball, and quite often, hockey.
    In my home land and in many European countries, it is the professional clubs who drive the sport. Yes, there are academies and smaller clubs, but children and youth players dream and aim to join the U12-U18 teams of any professional club. The club is organized top-down and bottom-up. There are all levels of teams for all levels of players. There is no crucial need for academies even if the clubs may have something called “Academy”. It is just their elegant name for a selected team. Any kid can start at the club according to level of development and even reach professional levels and world class if they are good and focused. You do a football career from the moment you join the “basic forces” and keep working hard. That is how our current world cup idols started.
    That being said, if Canada will ever want to rise to world class levels first we need a professional league that generates LOVE AND PASSION for the sport and those clubs can melt together the academies with the city clubs and offer from recreative to intermediate, then to Rep, then to Elite (HPL, OPDL, etc) and then to professional teams that offer the most skilled players a good place to keep playing. I can tell you more. And I know you may disagree, but this is how I feel.

  9. I recently opened a soccer academy after witnessing first hand what the bakers in the board room are capable of. I have and will always supported the Provincial and National bodies of Canadian Soccer because I formally receive my coaching training through them so I must “buy in” to their curriculums and methodologies. I train all my students to follow the LTAD stages and do my absolute best to ensure that EVERYONE is entitled to quality training, regardless of end goals or pathways. In my recent experience with a local club, I finally started to realize why there is such a gap in Canadian soccer and the development of our youth players. Parents are paying $500-600 for registration and these parents assume that the club is in full support of their childrens development but this is far from the truth. I’ve personally had to turn away players because they didn’t quite fit the grand picture of what we were looking for as a team. I’ve also heard our President’s say that we cannot accept players to a program if they cannot represent or compete with the clubs logo on their jerseys. Basically saying that if a child is no good, we cannot be embarrassed as a club. There is a tremendously poor attitude when it comes to the bigger picture of development and I believe that people with higher soccer IQ’s need to step in and take matters into their own hands. With proverbial bakers making tasteless and poor decisions, people like myself and others must step in and demonstrate a different outlook to how we view younger players.

    I have personally played at a high level in both soccer and hockey and it if it weren’t for the quality instructors I had, I would have never made it to the levels I played. People need to understand that if their child is serious about a sport and is willing to work hard, then it requires more than bakers and community parents to develop young athletes. What difference does it make if someone is making money off development programs? Could it be argued that perhaps these people have a passion for sport and coaching? I personally know a figure skating coach who teaches Canadian Olympic athletes and she makes a great living doing what she loves and it shows in the quality of her sessions and students. If a person is simply motivated by the dollar then I can guarantee that their endeavours won’t last long because their attitudes will reflect in their work and ultimately in their students. Parents like myself want their children to succeed and I personally do not mind if someone is making a good living while teaching my child what she needs to learn. I don’t expect teachers to be volunteers do you?

    It’s supper disconcerting to hear that Provincial bodies and the CSA do not support academies. If Provincial teams are charging an upwards of $2000-4000 dollars/player, then I think it’s safe to assume that it’s become more about the dollar than about the future of our children and this beautiful game we call soccer. I for one will not be intimidated or bulled into turning away from my passion for coaching and sport.

    Great post from everyone but unfortunately leaving this blog feeling disappointed and frustrated.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s