Another major event has finished for Canadian soccer. With it, like clockwork comes the inevitable cries for change in the system as it continues to be blatantly apparent that from a technical and tactical standpoint Canada is slipping as other countries are taking strides.
While I have wandered away for the most part, completely in frustration from Canadian soccer, to places that allowed me to thrive and not be stifled, both as a player (Ireland) and as a coach (United States), it’s like that old first love that you can’t help but still care so deeply for, despite the flaws they have that you know deep down are never going to change. But you have hope. You never lose hope.
I really, really would love nothing else than to be proven wrong. Here is my take on what needs to be done if Canada is ever going to have a hope of reaching its potential (which in my opinion, without a shadow of a doubt it has) to be a powerhouse.
- Make Canada an open market system when it comes to development
This is, in my opinion something that is failing right now, big time, in the Canadian system. Let me use an analogy. If someone knows that without a doubt they are in the starting line up, no matter how badly they play, it does not produce an environment of excellence, rather it becomes one of mediocrity.
Sanjeev Parmar, who runs an academy in Ottawa, is without a doubt, in all my travels to soccer places in all corners of the world, is far and away the best developer of players that are 7-12 years old.
Not only that, he is one of the best people and his passion for what he does oozes from every pore in his body; you get invigorated and excited just listening to him talk about what he does.
Yet someone like Sanjeev, instead of being recognized and pushed forward into a role where he can impact a whole country, is in a tiny corner in Ottawa, spending far too much of his time dealing with people that are threatened by his academy and governing bodies putting rules in place to stifle his growth and ability to do what he does best, which is developing young players.
On the other coast, TSS Academy, a soccer academy that has been around since I was in high school (approximately 1000 years ago), an academy that consistently churns out university caliber players has to go to the trouble of lawsuits against the provincial governing body, just to be able to operate their business. And let’s just acknowledge what it is, in the martyrdom of calling soccer in Canada non-profit. It is a business, a massive one and many many people are making big dollars off of it.
Make it an open market. Let the best people focus on what they are good at, which is developing soccer players instead of dealing with bureaucratic nonsense, and force everyone in the system to up their game and the product that they are providing players.
- Put The Most Qualified Canadians in Charge of our National Teams
Having been around the elite soccer scene in Canada since the Neil Turnbull era (yep you likely don’t know who that is), I was joking with my friend the other day that it’s like watching a new circus roll into town every few years. With the circus comes their restructuring of the system, the people that come with them that get put in positions of power, and the clamoring of everyone to take what they are preaching as gospel. And inevitably the circus comes to an end, and the shop gets closed and everyone waits until the next circus rolls in.
The lack of consistency that this causes is not good for anyone.
There are two people in Vancouver alone, that are absolutely phenomenal people and coaches that, if we are really serious about development and a long term plan within the country should, without a doubt be in a role influencing the next generation of players standing square at the top.
Nick Dasovic and Andrea Neil, the two people that have the most right to pop their collars when they walk into any Canadian soccer room but yet are the last, should be front and centre of developing players in this country. Yet neither are. One is no longer involved with soccer, and the other is coaching a local eighth grade boys team. We have to ask why.
These are people who not only gave up their lives to represent their country for decades combined, but who also, have their UEFA Pro and A Licences respectively. That’s right, the same one the likes of Mourinho have.
We have some phenomenal people who happen to also be incredible soccer developers in this country that bleed for Canada, and that aren’t going anywhere. If you look at every other country in the world, people that are from the country are calling the shots because at the end of the day, no one is going to bleed the passion to change a country and make it better than the people that grew up in it and those that will be sticking around for a lifetime. We need to ask ourselves why these people are not in positions of influence and how much different and better things would be if they were.
- Set Up Development Systems Outside of Major Centres
In this month, I will have run soccer clinics from St. John’s Newfoundland all the way to Vancouver Island. What I have seen time and again is that the majority of the country is neglected when it comes to player development and for kids from certain places, where they are born plays the largest role in the opportunities in the game that are attained. We are missing so many potential players because of this geographical isolation that is apparent any time someone glances over a provincial or national team roster.
If there is any need whatsoever for a provincial governing body, the role that it should play is to get into regions, away from major centres and give these top kids a pathway and the funds to travel to be able to participate in elite soccer opportunities. Because right now, the next Christine Sinclair could be sitting in Newfoundland, and no one would ever know. Giving kids the tools to reach the top no matter what corner of the country that they are from, first and foremost should be on every agenda centered on changing Canadian soccer for the better.
- Give An Avenue to Players After High School
The fact that currently in the majority of the country, there is no place for players to play soccer after high school is an embarrassment for the amount of money that sits in Canadian soccer off of registration alone. The fact is that there is a massive jump from not even high school soccer to the national team level, but from even the highest level of college soccer. People need a place to be able to play to grow and thrive as players.
As an example, look no further than Allysha Chapman, in my opinion, easily top 3 in Canada’s line up throughout this past World Cup. Yet Allysha making it to the Canadian National Team roster was nothing more than of her own making and determination, and the fact that she had a EU passport. After not getting a sniff with Canada after a solid U20 career, she went over to a second division Swedish team, that climbed her way to the Damallsvenskan, the top league in Sweden. But the reason she was able to put herself into a high level environment was the fact that she had a EU passport. She would be no where near the Canadian roster if she hadn’t, and with spots in top clubs in Europe, extremely competitive, no player without pedigree and a EU passport will get that opportunity.
The fact that there is nothing to buffer the jump now from high school in the summers for players playing in university and absolutely nothing after college, unless they have magically appeared on a national team roster, will be the biggest undoing for Canada moving forward unless it is rectified.
- Building a Bigger and Better City Hall Next Door
I was eating breakfast at a greasy diner with my Dad, circa 2007, when seeing the frustration with everything Canadian soccer seeping out of every pore (I’ve never been the best at hiding my emotion), he said what probably every parent watching their child smashing their head against a brick wall would say, “Ciara, there’s a saying, you can’t fight city hall for a reason.” To which I retorted without a second thought, “Dad I’m not trying to fight city hall, I’m just trying to build a bigger and better city hall next door.”
My experience with Canadian soccer has taught me probably the best life lesson that could possibly be taught: Instead of focusing on everything that frustrates me (which is why I don’t bother blogging on Canadian soccer much anymore), focus on building things creatively, outside of the system that work in a positive way towards whatever the end goal is.
What I do know, from travelling and working with players, coaches and administrators from coast to coast this past few weeks is that there are so many incredible people in Canada that are capable and passionate about making things better. People who value excellence and are passionate about raising the bar. Barry Morrison in New Brunswick, Nicole Moores in Newfoundland, Sanjeev Parmar in Ottawa, Ciaran McMahon and Will Cromack in BC. These are just a smattering of examples of people I’ve had a chance to talk to over the last couple of weeks that set a high bar in what they do, that are inclusive and willing to be challenged through competition and who are passionate every day they wake up to make their soccer environments better.
They are there, and together, we can rise above the way things are. Everyone that is working so hard in their sphere of influence, no matter how small, are making positive changes and moving the country forward.
Who knows if things will ever change, but like a deadbeat boyfriend, you see the potential in and just can’t let go of and who you keep going back to, no matter how many times they break your heart: Canadian soccer, I can’t help but care about you, and I’ll never give up on you.
Great post. Agree completely with your point regarding Sanjeev Parmar
I too agree with everything you have said. Especially the part about looking for talent outside of the major centres.
Agree wholeheartedly with #3 and 4. We have no development model that identifies players outside the major centers and many national teams are made of players from coaches major center. All coaches are selected from the major centers. We do not get kids from smaller areas like hockey does. Many of these kids are great athletes who are committed. Look at Canadas roster in hockey compared to soccer. Huge difference. We need a top down approach that grants tier 1 franchises to geographic areas that encompass rural areas-400000 to an area and let these clubs build their programs and the cream will rose to the top-not just players but coaches and tech people too. We cant afford to miss out on developing 1/3 of the available athletes. Once we have the elite teams in geopraphic areas repeat the process for elite programs in older age categories. Get a damn pyramid and don’t leave it up to the regional poobahs who have been holding this game back for decades.
Just one small quibble. You say build outside the system. Wouldn’t it be better in Canada to insist on a unified system that provides a coherent year round soccer development model so we don’t have 1000 groups building outside the system? I know the system is bad now and fractured but shouldn’t we be insisting on a proper pyramid across the country to nurture-identify and develop elite players then trying to build 1000 pyramids? If you did that then the Parmars etc would have a coherent program to accommodate themselves to.
Allowing for a competitive marketplace within a cohesive model is definitely something I advocate for. My main point is getting rid of the monopoly model which has been bureaucratically designated, that exists currently, which does not allow for competition and the ability for the overall level of service provided to players to be raised.
I can’t speak on Soccer Canada but being part of Ontario Soccer LTPD are a set of guidelines and rules that work in Toronto but neglect and handcuff smaller markets and border towns close to the US. In smaller markets its tough to have enough players in most girls age group and only being able to play to 2 under age players often means no team. Girls Hockey has the age groups for 2 years which should mean every other year you will be the older player. In some US soccer markets the ages are broken in 18 months block, which allows all girls to have an opportunity to be younger, middle and oldest which can really help the girls born in the later part of the year. The biggest irony was in our local district two teams had to fold because they couldn’t get enough U15 players and were denied bringing up U14 players to roster a team, so now the u15 division only has 3 teams and so now the league puts U15 teams in the U16 division so now its all of a sudden okay for and entire team to play up. From what I have seen the next great female soccer player may have already quit and moved on to another sport. As a coach my only goal is to keep the girls loving soccer and playing which is a hard goal given the current system trying to produce a star is an even harder challenge if you don’t live in the Toronto Area.