The Blame Game Isn’t Working Anymore

It’s been almost 10 years since the greatest paradigm shift in youth sports was first introduced in Canada – Long Term Player Development (LTPD) also referred to as Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD). Aimed at building better athletes through greater emphasis on technical proficiency and a reduced emphasis on competitive results in the pre-teen development stages, LTPD was a major shift in the way society thought and was always going to be hotly debated.

Few argued that change in the way we developed and retained athletes in our youth sporting systems needed change. With the exception of a handful of sports, Canada has long been considered a poor to mediocre sporting nation and seldom viewed as a competitive threat, especially in the team sport of soccer. The reasons for this may well be infinite but the one that many touting LTPD preached routinely in Canada’s soccer circles was the suggestion that some studies show as many as 70% of youth stop playing organized sports around the age of 13. While recognizing there are many reasons for this, not the least of which included increased school and life responsibilities and changing interests, a lack of fun and skill development was often cited as large contributors for the participation drop off.

Armed with these studies and ‘facts,’ LTPD was generally sold to the youth soccer community at the expense of volunteer coaches. The rhetoric labelled many as unqualified, “win at all costs” coaches and singled them out as a primary cause for lack of player development and loss of interest in youth soccer across Canada. This of course isn’t without merit. Indeed the majority of coaches were in fact unqualified volunteer parents by virtue that despite it’s huge registration numbers, soccer in Canada was and still is considered a summer recreational activity. It is however unfortunate that it took the demonizing of these people for the administrators and power brokers of the game to actually focus attention on coach education and make a serious effort to help these volunteers receive the proper education and qualifications needed to better serve the youth to which they have dedicated their personal time. With coach education a significant part of the LTPD paradigm, we are seeing a record number of coaches be given much better tools to serve their youth than those my coaches had when I came through the youth soccer system some 30 years ago.

Having been fully implemented across the majority of Canada for the better part of 5 years now, LTPD, despite the grumblings of a minority that will never fully cease, is generally accepted as the way forward for soccer in Canada. The LTPD paradigm leaves plenty of room for interpretation and variation between clubs, associations and leagues while enforcing consistency in it’s core values across the nation. We are starting to get our first glimpses at the youth being produced through this system with varying degrees of success across the country. For those clubs where LTDP implementation has gone well it’s business as usual.  But where perhaps it hasn’t gone as well, there are signs appearing of a situation analogous to what we see in business and politics routinely. The implementation or sale of a new paradigm is often framed or supported by a couple of key central arguments to keep people focused and remind them of its purpose. However when an argument becomes irrelevant or is no longer effectively focusing an audience, it must be refreshed in order to breath new life into the paradigm it supports.

In a minority of soccer circles there are signs that the demonizing of parents is replacing that which coaches use to be subjected. After all, with coach education and the installation of provincially or nationally certified club head coaches a major plank of LTPD, it would hardly lend credence to the paradigm to continue exclusively faulting unqualified coaching for a lack of or perceived lack of player development. In essence that would be an admission of failure of the model and that is never going to happen this early into its lifecycle.

Unfortunately, there are some clubs and coaches that fault parents for a perceived lack of development in their children or for negativity within the club atmosphere. Citing examples of coaching from the sidelines, after practice / game criticism of players, clique’s complaining about coaches and other players, etc. Sound like you? Why not, most parents, myself included, are guilty of one or more of these actions at some point in their children’s sporting development. But to suggest these actions even in moderation as a cause for slow or nonexistent development or to suggest the opinions of a few can adversely affect an entire club of several hundred, many of whom you will never interact with? One needs to give their head a shake. I suspect or at least hope these coaches and clubs are referring to extreme examples like those featured in the documentary “Trophy Kid.”

Trophy Kid follows four extreme examples of parents that place an abnormal amount of pressure on their children to develop in their chosen sport that it affects the athletes negatively in their player development and/or personal welfare and happiness. Sadly these people do exist and they most certainly have the ability to affect their own children’s development and growth; however, they represent such an extraordinary minority that to even suggest there are enough of these parents to hinder an entire team, club program or sport is utterly asinine. It’s unfortunate because the documentary attempts to shed light on a valid issue in youth sports but it chooses such extreme examples that it comes off contrived and insulting to the point it actually does a disservice to the issue.  Parents who think they might be on the cusp of being problematic to their children, team or club will view this and think their behavior is angelic by comparison.

So previously poor coaching was to blame, we took measures to correct that and problems still exist. Now it is poor parenting that is the problem, so some are putting a great deal of time and energy into parent education. What happens when that is no longer the pressing issue and we are still seeing problems? What then? Who do we blame next? The coaches again? The player’s commitment? The clubs, associations, leagues governance?

 

When does the blame game stop and everyone from the top down involved in soccer start being accountable for their own actions?

 

When does the player admit they haven’t put their best effort forth? When does the parent admit that maybe they don’t know what’s best and they ought to just enjoy watching their child play? When does the coach or Technical Director admit development isn’t a one size fits all solution and that maybe they can’t be all things to all people? When does the club administration work with its membership and admit that they can do things better? When does the league, provincial or national association implement tough standards and hold members to account?

Having been entrenched in discussions with people from various soccer circles across Canada and around the world since the inception of LTPD to its present form, I can say that great progress has been made but I now humbly ask all to stop looking for the next scapegoat and start looking in the mirror! We have had issues with player development and retention in youth soccer in Canada and despite a much needed and well intentioned paradigm shift, until we ALL stop playing the blame game and finally accept accountability for our own decisions those problems aren’t going away anytime soon.

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James

Welcome to my blog where I intend to share this, that and all things in between of personal interest. Expect to see a lot about my profession - Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and even more about my passion - Soccer. The This and That of my blog ought to be straightforward enough but what of the random in between? Guess you'll have to check back often to find out! I thank anyone who takes the interest and time to read my posts. I hope you enjoy or at least appreciate a different perspective and I welcome hearing yours.

3 thoughts on “The Blame Game Isn’t Working Anymore”

  1. Good piece. I’d like to go a step further and place significant responsibility on the CSA as well. What I am seeing as an American transplant, boggles my mind in terms of how many recreational/house teams and leagues exist if they aren’t in reconciliation with “Rome” or provincial association and by extension the CSA. To see clubs given full jurisdiction of geographical areas, basically because they were there first, and not allowing new clubs gives existing organizations absolutely no incentive financially or in developmental terms to improve their end product. Freyja Reed in British Columbia would have had (last I read) to leave her town for another club over 100km away to continue competing at a similar level. We have no national futsal body, no support for creating domestic places for Canadian players on MLS teams (when it is clearly not a labor issue. e.g NHL, but one imposed by USSF) and no national syllabus for people to at least refer to. I have read the thin documents that constitute the LTPD and am flummoxed that this could have been someone’s magnum opus at the CSA and it has been around for a decade. We can’t be complacent as a soccer/football community and accept things as they are. If Iceland (with longer winters and a population of just over 300,000) can come a whisper from qualifying for the World Cup and actually qualify for the Euros, there is absolutely no reason Canada can’t accomplish an ambitious agenda. However, in the race to assign associations and clubs part of the pie instead of earning their keep in a competitive pyramid structure, we have guaranteed mediocrity.

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    1. Thanks for the reply Will. Some good points here. With respect to boundaries, I personally believe there are two types of young athletes: (1) Recreational players that want to learn the sport, have fun and be active and (2) competitive players who have chosen to dedicate themselves to a particular sport and have committed themselves to reaching their highest potential. I see a need for geographic boundaries for recreational sports, quality of service/product aside, this ensures the viability of a local club for kids to simply play the game. In the competitive stream I tend to agree with you. Players shouldn’t be tied down geographically, service providers ought to be held to account for the quality of their product and customer service.

      In defense of the CSA, they have worked very hard to relax the rules surrounding Canadians playing in the MLS on non-Canadian teams but to a great extent their hands are tied. It’s not their league to control. That is why I’m hopeful that the rumors of a new all Canadian domestic league coming in 2017 are true. In my humble opinion, the creation of a long term viable domestic league would the be the single greatest step the CSA could take to further our national teams, help develop Canadian talent and further the game in Canada.

      Fully agree about complacency. If there is no will from the soccer community (players, parents, coaches, clubs) to keep the ball of change rolling, the great strides already made may be for naught. LTPD I feel is adequately addressing player and coach development needs. The as of yet implemented CSA Club Charter however seems to fall short on addressing the need for the standardization of some core governance issues within clubs. Baby steps though, Rome wasn’t built overnight.

      Iceland is a remarkable example of what is possible when everyone stops playing the blame game and pulls together for the greater good of the game and its players.

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