This past weekend we launched TOPP Soccer- It stands for “The Other Pathway Placement” and the goal of the organization is to give every player the information and inspiration on and off the field to have a legitimate chance to play college soccer regardless of where they come from or what team they play for.
I also wrote a couple of books that the whole TOPP program is built off of- one for parents and one for players, and the goal is after reading them that both parents and players have every piece of information they need to know how to make college soccer a reality. For more info on the books, click here
The first TOPP clinic we did was in Connecticut- the idea was to bring in lots of great schools for kids in state, but also give players from outside the area the opportunity to tour schools in the area- shout out to the coaches and players at Southern Connecticut State, Yale, Quinnipiac, and CCSU, showing off their schools, giving the kids a realistic picture of what college life looks like and for giving the kids something to talk about for a lifetime.
At the clinic we had schools such as Arizona State, New Hampshire, Longwood, Stonybrook, Yale, Brown, Quinnipiac, AIC, Maryland, Boston University, UMass, UMass-Lowell, Stonehill, SCSU, Washington and Lee and individual players from all over the region and top regionally ranked teams from New York, Maryland, Virginia, as well as a group of 20 kids from Newfoundland. It was a fantastic weekend- one of the D1 coaches said it was “The best camp I’ve worked in a long time”, which for a group getting off the ground was a much appreciated endorsement that we are heading in the right direction.
But in this blog, I want to talk about the 20 from Newfoundland, and I want to talk about a player that flew all the way from Vancouver, Canada to be a part of this past weekend.
I’ve piped down on speaking out about the Canadian system, specifically the system in BC, because I think as you get older you realize you have a finite amount of energy and why waste it to focus on negativity when we all have the capacity to do so much positive.
And this is what makes me excited about college recruiting and the opportunities it presents.
Let’s talk about the player from Vancouver first. I was first alerted to her, when her coach from TSS sent me a video clip of her scoring 5 goals in a game against a good team from Alberta. It was impressive. She diced players, she scored a long ball with her left foot, she scored from close in with her right…it went on. She was technical, she was confident, she was physical and she could score. Check her out for yourself via her video: Click Here
She has also been developing at TSS since she was 6 years old, the last 3 years of which have been in their full time program. This is an organization that has been marginalized within the BC system for as long as I can remember. Their crime? They started their own academy that only survives if they do a good job. Ironically, TSS has a positive relationship with the majority of soccer clubs in the Lower Mainland of BC who increasingly see them as another bonafide club, making it clearer than ever that the system as a whole needs to recognize them as such.
Meanwhile, while having to fight for their survival, they also have been the only club that have consistently placed almost every single player they’ve had to university rosters, which for parents paying a pretty penny for soccer development, is the key and tangible economic marker for a return on investment.
So let’s get back to this special player from TSS/Vancouver and why I love college recruiting, and why I am so passionate about the launch of TOPP.
The beauty of it is that NCAA and CIS coaches don’t give a shit where the kids come from or who they play for.
So while this TSS player can’t be considered for the Canadian U17 team via the REX program because she’s a part of TSS, not in the “system” and has no desire to switch out of the club that developed her, Ivy League schools are interested and a Big Ten school, the conference where NCAA national champion Penn State play in, have offered her a full scholarship. Where shameful politics may prevent her an opportunity at the Canadian youth level, college soccer will give her the opportunity to grow and improve and create more opportunities for herself that negate the effect of any politics. Negatives into positives.
And as the icing on the cake, after speaking to her this weekend, she is one of the nicest, most humble kids that you could come across, the kind of kid you are so happy for those great opportunities that are coming her way. Sidenote: she impressed as much in person as she did in her video this weekend.
While this player, from within a major city, struggles to get opportunities because people in power don’t like the club she plays for and have created rules to keep her from getting the opportunity to play in the Canadian youth system, where she clearly belongs, the players from Newfoundland opened my eyes to another problem that college recruiting solves.
The sad thing is in Canada, that unless you are from a major city, essentially, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal or Quebec City, you are at a major, major disadvantage to get opportunities to further your development as a player at the highest level. And even being from major cities, because of the politics outlined with TSS, players even from these places still struggle. While I read blogs and articles talking about why Canada isn’t developing a lot of players, the answers lay right in front of us with these two issues outlined above.
I will be honest when I say that I didn’t expect much from the kids from Newfoundland on the field. The live on an isolated island and when you see the amount of fancy tournaments and 1 on 1 development with pro players that players in the US benefit from, I was nervous to see how they would compete. And boy did they make me look stupid.
Not only were they the most polite bunch of kids that I have ever come across (and I say that with absolutely no hyperbole), they were great, great soccer players. This is illustrated by the fact that after 3 days of straight soccer, they played the second ranked U18 team in Connecticut that is filled with players playing D1 next year who were fresh, and only lost 2-1. Newfoundland had no U18 players. The majority of their players are U16 and U17 and they even had a couple of U15 players play 90 minutes against this top U18 Connecticut group.
These kids from Newfoundland are completely forgotten about in the Canadian system and no one cares. Their coach, Nicole who is one of the most passionate people and young coaches in Canadian soccer that I have come across, obviously developing wonderful players, faces roadblocks at every turn trying to get these kids out of Newfoundland and into real opportunities.
I know just from communicating with her the last few months, the insane amount of hours that she had to put into developing an itinerary for an incredible trip for these kids, she had to try and navigate roadblocks in the system and the potential of the trip not being able to happen.
A particularly poignant moment occurred yesterday when the (completely classy) kids thanked her yesterday in front of the group, and one of them said, “thank you for being the only coach in Newfoundland that gives a shit about us and thank you for doing this for us.” While I’m sure (hopefully) there are more coaches than Nicole that give a shit about the kids in Newfoundland, the beautiful thing about kids, is that while all the adults power play around them, they know who is fighting for their best interest and who is in it for their own agenda.
But let’s get back to the positive again and all the opportunity that came out of this weekend for the kids through the college recruiting process: One of my good friends, an extremely well-connected NCAA D1 coach, passionate about giving kids opportunities, spent an hour on his phone Saturday night at dinner, texting friends of his at schools, where he felt the Newfoundland kids would be a good fit. He spent another hour in the parking lot with Nicole going through player by player, what he thought of each kid on her roster and what they could do to make themselves stand out more and work on. Where some people choose to hold the kids back, it excites me more and more, that there are so many more, that are selfless, that have no agenda or nothing to gain, that want to use every shred of power, network and opportunity that they have to give these kids opportunities instead of holding them back. This weekend epitomized it.
These Canadian kids, one that is being held back from Canadian youth opportunities because of politics, and another group of great players and kids that are from a forgotten island will go on to play university and have a chance to better themselves as people and players and hopefully come back one day to give back. We will make sure of it.
A broken system will not hold them back.
Just like someone that figured out a secret trap door behind a Mount Everest of roadblocks, it is exciting to see this pathway develop and what the future will hold for these awesome kids and players.