I was back home in the last couple of weeks to run my favourite event of the year, the Western Canada Soccer Showcase that I started 7 years ago. I did this when there was no professionally run event for female high school soccer players at the time in Western Canada, and I knew via former teammates of mine that were coaching at D1 programs in the US and always looking for quality players, that an event of the sort was needed.
I had quite a time getting the event off the ground, which you can read about here. To make a long story short, some of the pushback I received was from BC Soccer, in a meeting I was called into, had 2 members of their technical staff declare, “Let’s be honest Ciara, the only girls that would have a chance of getting scholarships would be girls that are on the Provincial Team.”
I disagreed, and was happily proven right, when via a university coach from Florida in the first year of the event (March 2008), a non-Provincial team player from Victoria who had Columbian parents was connected with the U17 Colombian National Team. She went on to play against Canada in the 2008 U17 World Cup and ended up getting a scholarship to a D1 program. Since then many more fantastic stories have emerged from the event and it’s something I feel very proud to have the privilege to organize and be a part of.
But with that being said, my experience year after year putting together this event has made very real for me the struggles that private enterprise within Canadian soccer faces, which is why former Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie’s article that I read while the Showcase was going on, resonated so strongly with me.
Rennie’s whole article can be found here.
For those that would like the Cliff notes this is the gist of what Rennie discusses in a well-written essay.
Main Point: There is not enough private enterprise in Canadian soccer to allow it to be successful, differing from the US where there is “significant opportunity for hard working, qualified individuals to make a living from delivering quality soccer programs.”
Rennie also touches on that the top Canadian soccer coaches aren’t put with younger players thus leaving a massive hole in the most crucial ages to develop players, and how those with jobs at the top of the ladder in Canadian soccer organizations, don’t go anywhere, thus there being no competitive impetus to evolve and improve, as a for-profit organization that’s livelihood depends on if they have happy customers.
Let me first give a little bit of my background: I grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and went on to play NCAA soccer at Yale and at the University of Connecticut. My first year out of college I went to Denmark where I was a part of a Champions League final in 2003 with my club Fortuna Hjorring. I have experience in the private sector running camps and clinics in Canada for my company girlsCAN as well as the Western Canada Soccer Showcase. Because of frustrations with the Canadian system and the barriers that I have faced in running high quality programs for female players, I have gotten my green card and moved to the US, where I have started an academy for female players called girlsCAN Football in Connecticut, USA that is flourishing. I am currently still playing professionally, and have played and seen how the game is administered around the globe with significant stints in Australia, Denmark and Norway, as well as represented the Irish National Team. I did the first part of my UEFA B coaching license in Dublin last June, and have done three masters degrees and written 2 thesis’ on topics concerning opportunity for women in soccer.
I give this background solely to illustrate that I have seen the game in many different capacities, from different viewpoints, and in different cultures, and feel I have a very strong idea of what works and what doesn’t, what brings the game forward and what holds it back.
As a person, I’m very competitive. I love being in environments, cultures and around people that are challenging, uncomfortable and force me to work, improvise and compete with integrity to allow me to discover what my best looks like.
As Martin Rennie outlined in his paper, I feel that the Canadian system creates the opposite culture, and it’s hurting the growth of the game in the country and the experience of Canadian players.
When I try and discuss what I feel the climate of Canadian soccer is, as an avid coffee drinker, I naturally gravitate towards a comparison of Starbucks and Tim Horton’s and utilize them as a metaphor when I discuss my frustrations with the system. And I’ll stick with BC as it’s the only province I really know, as I know there are intricacies and differences between all of them.
Right now in BC, there is the Whitecaps (Starbucks). Coincidentally, they are a for-profit organization, which throws another interesting tidbit into the discussion, which we will save for another day. The government, in it’s prime form, should be neutral, overseeing operations and setting standards that everyone must follow and compete within. However, instead this government (BC Soccer) have decided to endorse Starbucks (/Whitecaps, work with me on the metaphor here) as the only coffee company that people in town are allowed to go to without consequence.
So now, the consumer is being told by what should be a neutral governing body, that they have to go to Starbucks, that Tim Horton’s isn’t even a choice. And for the brave consumer that goes against the grain and goes into Tim Horton’s because they like what they have to offer, there will be consequences for those choices (example, if you play for TSS, a top academy that produces countless female players to universities every year, you aren’t even given the opportunity to represent your province on the provincial team).
So what then happens if all the consumers are shepherded into Starbucks? Starbucks can make crap coffee, they can be rude to the customers, they can put in a half-ass effort, but guess what? They don’t have to do anything else because they know regardless of what they do, customers are being forced to not even glance at the Tim Horton’s next door or fear the consequences if they do.
Does that sound ridiculous? Would this kind of monopolistic behavior ever be allowed in our regular economy? Yet, this is the reality of soccer in BC, and Canada as a whole.
And to me, the biggest problem in all this, is in the current Canadian system, as Martin Rennie highlighted, there is no accountability that comes from having to compete. And this is not to say that people that are currently within the system, wouldn’t have the same share of the pie if they had to compete, because there are people and non-profit organizations that are fantastic, and would still have their spot in the proverbial starting 11 if they had to fight for it.
But I am saying that these people too are being harmed by being in this culture and environment, because for those of you that are doing a fantastic job within the current climate, I’ll argue with some competitive fire breathing down your back, that you could be even better. In this system, those at the cushy place at the top of the ladder are being cheated by not having the ability to reach their best, of having to lie in the uncomfortable position of competition that a truly competitive environment allows and that brings out the A game in all of us.
And at the end of the day, the consumer that the current Canadian system is hurting? It’s every kid in Canada that has a dream to reach their potential as a soccer player.
I’ll address my Showcase experience, and my experience running my programming in the US and Canada in future blogs.
In the meantime, enjoy the freedom that comes with choosing where to purchase your next latte.