I recently was back home to Vancouver, BC to run the Western Canada Soccer Showcase, an event I started 5 years ago, when no professional event existed in Western Canada to help elite high school female players reach their goal of playing soccer in college.

While the 2012 event itself was a massive success on Easter Weekend, the ugliness that is soccer politics in Canada, specifically in BC, again reared its ugly head. I couldn’t help but think, that there seems to be different rules in the soccer world as there are in our society.

Transparency breeds accountability. This is my attempt to bring the issues as I see them to light, in order to give the players the environment that they deserve.

Questions/comments? Find me on twitter @ciaramccormack

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The concept of bullying is one that has received a great deal of attention by both the media and school system in the last few years. In fact one cannot open a magazine, turn on a TV, or turn the page of a newspaper, without a heart-wrenching story jumping off of the page, or the details of a new policy in a school or workplace being unveiled. Quite simply, in this day and age, society has made a clear statement that bullying is not tolerated.

Just for the sake of it, I recently typed into google “definition of bullying” and this is what came up:

Bullying: verb: To use superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Upon reading the definition, I couldn’t help but think it embodies the current state of our soccer system, based on my own experience and the stories that I continue to hear from players, parents of players, in addition to individuals and groups that are trying to run programs outside of the system.

Quite simply, bullies prey on those who are vulnerable.

I would argue that the average soccer parent trying to navigate the system is made feel that they are in a weaker position, their child the pawn that could face negative consequences if they do not play for “this team”, or in “this league”, or for this “club academy”.

Administrators and technical directors alike, who are “in the system” often, make close to, or over six figures for “non-profit” organizations, with their jobs depending on players being a part of the programs that they run. Therefore the motivation to embody bullying and “force someone to do what one wants” by forcing the player to stay on their pathway is high, the concept of joining something “unsanctioned” connoting the veiled threat of punishment to those who dare to go outside of this forced system.

Over the last few months, I have heard countless stories that fall under the above definition of bullying. These include parents having it insinuated or flat out told that unless their child attends the academy attached to their club (where it just so happens the club coach makes some of their living from), that their child’s opportunities to make select teams will be hampered.

Other stories of players threatened with a loss of opportunities should they choose to train with an academy outside of their club, or for older players, one that provides an alternative to HPL teams. BC Soccer, an organization funded by players from all corners of BC, does not allow players on the Provincial Team, a team supposedly representing the best our province has to offer, unless they pay thousands of dollars to be a part of the HPL League. The examples, using the above definition of bullying go on.

We live in a society that legally forbids monopolies. Monopolies or anti competitive practices are avoided because while they often enrich those who practice them, they are generally believed to have a negative effect on the economy and society as a whole. In other words, with one group in total power, the consumer, or soccer player is at a disadvantage with this forced lack of choice. The government regulates against anti-competitive practices, because we as a society agree that competition makes us better. Yet somehow our soccer system is able to avoid our country’s basic economic principles.

When parents are repeatedly told that there is one pathway, that in essence there is a monopoly in place whereby they don’t have a choice, it is a fertile ground to be bullied.

The motivation to bully is high. The power, money and control of those who do choose to bully within our soccer system is at stake, having little to do with the “player first” motto that is continually quoted as supposedly being definitive of soccer in this province. In case anyone is wondering when people are focused on money, power and control, it has little to do what is truly best for the player.

As parents, the first and most important question, everyone should ask themselves is, what exactly do I want my child/player to get out of their participation in this sport? I suggest the answer should be, good personal values, exercise, the opportunity for positive mentoring, and an appreciation and passion for the world’s most popular game. Opportunities to play in university, professionally or for the national team are bred from this foundation for the minuscule number of players that go on to these levels.

In looking for an environment to place your child in, the second anyone tells you that their pathway is the “only way, ” or that your child will somehow suffer from not joining their club, league, etc, this is your red flag to seek services elsewhere, and immediately recognize it as a form of bullying. Someone who truly cares about your child and his/her development will truthfully tell you that there are many different ways to the “top.” They will present what makes their environment fantastic, without making you feel that your child will suffer, should they not make the choice to be a part of it.

Ultimately bullies derive their power from making people feel like they don’t have control. Parents, you have far more power and control than you often realize.

Most importantly, don’t get caught up in the rat race, because it is here where the soccer bullies thrive. Know that there is more than one way to the “top” and have the courage, if necessary to search outside the box to find it. Find groups that thrive and welcome competition. Most importantly don’t lose sight of what is truly important. Finding environments that are based on the right values that will provide good life lessons and role models that will propel your child long past their soccer playing years.

If you make choices for your soccer-playing children, without fear and with these values firmly in place, you will always rise above the bullies.

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11 thoughts

  1. Great perspective Ciara. I love that you’re opening a dialogue and providing a venue for people to discuss this. We aren’t powerless when we share a common voice and express our displeasure at the system. Change has to come from us!

  2. Excellent article. As a parent, I try to navigate what appears to be a minefield of politics and league ambition. I just want my daughter to enjoy soccer, be coached well and have an opportunity to keep playing as she grows up. She needs a whole life full of high school sports and other club sports. Certain leagues prohibit this and confine our youth. She is better soccer player for it.

  3. While I’m not a fan of using the term bully in this sort of context (because it’s an issue near to my heart and I don’t want to marginalize it), I think your point is valid. I am part of a big club, and one that I think has advocated a very open policy on such things. I believe our approach has been to develop quality programs that are attractive and make parents and players want to participate. I find that much of the resistance to outside programs, whether your tournament (which I have had teams enter) or an academy like TSS, is out of fear and laziness. The soccer community needs to accept that competition is the name of the game, and is the catalyst for progress, not just on the field but off it as well. If an outside program does something better than my club, I would like to think the response would be to make ours better and not try to close doors on them.

  4. Speaking as a parent with 2 daughters that play soccer in a club with BCSPL teams I can honestly say that I didn’t encounter any bulling to register my youngest daughter to their academy (my oldest is playing PL) although she made the Elite 1 team.
    I know from talking to other parents that have their daughter playing BCSPL that they were allowed to join other soccer academies like TSS (which I think is one of the best) as long as their is no conflict with practice or game dates.

  5. Thank you, as a parent (mother) with two kids in the system in B.C. in two separate organizations this article completely rings true to me for both. I hope as more and more people see this view of the B.C. soccer system that they will be able to stand up for their children and make it a true “player first” development program through all levels. At this moment I agree with all you have said and definitely feel bullied by the organizations.

  6. Well said! After 30 years in player development, coaching and having my own children go through the ” many tiers of ranking kids year after year” I could not agree with you more! There definitely is not enough transparency and coordination of “Tiers” nor is there enough real understanding of child development and inherent potential and proper evaluation of soccer players to really support all the “elite” programs being offered as the best of the best opportunity for kids to develop. It has become a “pay as you go” system, the more you pay the higher you go! Too bad most of those “profiting” from the game today, forgot that they reached their potential mostly through dedicated and volunteer (unpaid) soccer passionate coaches! The concept “pay it forward” means something completely different in soccer today!! “Pay to move forward?” poorer kids!! BC soccer should be ashamed of their own people”s self promotion, and the need for parents to shell out so much money because their kids are successful and love the game! It is not that money is needed its the competition and the lack of regulation and proper alignments of programs.

    1. Well said sadforsoccer and soccermom. I could not say it any better. The bullying in BC soccer needs to stop and everybody needs to truly start thinking about what is best for our children so we can see our players in a world cup again paying for Canada. Like Ciara mentioned, there are different pathways to reach the top. Due to the ongoing frustration with BC soccer and the way it is structured I am looking in US and Europe for alternative opportunities for my children. In addition, there are so many “poorer” kids who have great talent, but based on the current pathway that exists in BC soccer, would never make it into the HPL teams and White Caps programs.

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