Eye opener

I’ve been running a series of meetings at our club for a variety of House (U5 to U10) groups. Some are for parents and some are for coaches. There’s 12 scheduled and I’ve done eight to this point.

I’ve made a point, with the ones for U5 parents and the ones for U6-7 parents (the age split is based on the program they are entering) of asking three questions and asking for a show of hands in response.

The first question is “Who has heard the term Long Term Player Development.” The next is who knows what “Physical Literacy” is and the last is “Do you know who Jason DeVos is?” (I use a quote from one of his blog articles on LTPD in my presentation).

While hardly scientific and really just based on a quick count of hands and a rough count of those in attendance at the meeting, it has made me realize that we are just scratching the surface in terms of getting any sort of message about progressive approaches to youth soccer out to people.

At no point in any of the four meetings I’ve run for these two groups has any more than 10% of the crowd answered affirmatively to any of these questions.

There’s a vocal, committed group of local soccer coaches and parents who contribute to this debate, particularly on Twitter, and there’s a continuing push that will likely see this start to spill offline to actual meetings around the ideas of best practices and curricula but enveloping yourself in Twitter conversations about local youth soccer issues can be a exercise in circlejerk-ism. It has to go beyond that.

There are good people out there and good ideas out there. They are not reaching beyond a small group and as a result the vast majority of incoming soccer parents are not apprised of what a good youth soccer experience should look like and thus not in a position to hold lazy, non-progressive clubs’ feet to the fire and demand programs that ensure their kids are taught the game properly.

Just as I’ve mentioned a few times that elite level soccer in the form of BCPL really is entering a critical year, it’s third season, and needs to demonstrate why people should continue to support it and have confidence in it, all clubs at the grassroots level should also be looking in the mirror and examining how they can improve their U5 to U12 programming. I know what my club is doing and I’m not trying to use this as a forum to say how wonderful we are but the onus is on Technical Directors like myself to push for better and different ways of doing things rather than just reflexively being content with ‘good enough’. The push to improve will eventually come from parents as they get more educated about LTPD and what well-structured age and level appropriate soccer practices look like and what separates good coaches from average coaches but we’re not there yet. Change is still going to be driven from the top down in the absence of parental insistence. The last two years have seen the start of change of soccer in this country but the heavy lifting is still ahead of us.

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13 Responses to Eye opener

  1. Fred Cutler says:

    It’s a major communications challenge that has to be met by clubs, especially big ones, with support from CSA and BC soccer.

    I wouldn’t measure progress by incoming parents’ awareness, but rather by asking U8 parents about these things. At the same time, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic — I don’t think your measurement instrument is very well designed. In fact, I think many parents assume that their club and coaches will be informed by principles roughly like those in LTPD, but without the same LT-P-D motivation as us in the inner circle. Because soccer in Canada is the default, low-cost, low-commitment, low-preparation sport for parents without much sporting background and without much push from their own kids, I think parents’ _objectives_ are, mostly, for Physical Literacy and something we might call team-social literacy. Many parents are registering kids for soccer thinking that it’ll be good for the kids to try it for a year or two. The likely don’t give a hoot for LTPD because they doubt it’ll be long-term for their kid, and they don’t think of their kid as a player to be developed.

    It’s clear to me that the club and I are providing a very cheap service for their kids’ social development. Some of the really hard-to-coach kids at U8-U10 are still with us because their parents need a couple of hours break and think the kid might be normalized by being in this enviroment. As I’ve said in many places, that function is IN DIRECT CONFLICT with long-term PLAYER development for the ones who will be playing when they’re 16 and 26.

    All this is why: if we care about ltPd we must stream (tier, whatever) at U7 and above, based on player motivation and social skills, NOT athletic ability, in consultation with parents. A ‘recreational’ and ‘competitive’ stream would deliver much better soccer LTPD than any of the principles and coaching education that are being (rightly) improved year by year.

    • Gregor says:

      Fair comment in general but I’ve always contended that streaming isn’t just about separating the better players and helping their development. As you know we soft-tier at U9/10 and it lets us provide two playing environments that players can move between. That lets newer/weaker players play at a different pace until they’re ready to try the quicker pace on the adjacent field. (Note to others: We have teams of 18 play two side-by-side 6v6 games on a “Challenge” field and a “Development” field. Coaches are free to move players between the fields at their discretion.)

      • Fred Cutler says:

        Wish it were that easy at practice in the dark with 20 7 or 8-yr-old kids. Game days are easy and maybe even beneficial to have it in this format; the problem is training. Even if I have 4 or 5 assistant coaches doing small groups, there’s a massive communication burden from head coach to assistants. Got to explain everything to assistants who have a range of experience and understanding and ability to demonstrate.
        As you can tell, I’m really looking forward to our first training session tomorrow night.

    • Bruce says:

      … “if we care about ltPd we must stream (tier, whatever) at U7 and above, based on player motivation and social skills, NOT athletic ability,”

      I whole heartily agree. Player ability changes dramatically as the players physically and mentally develop and excluding committed competitive players from playing in a competitive environment due to their current ability diminishes their opportunities to learn and improve; this can lead to high potential players eventually growing frustrated or disillusioned and giving up on soccer before they even hit their teens.

      • Gregor says:

        Defining and assessing motivational and social skills is more difficult and subjective than athletic and/or technical soccer ability.

        The CSA’s LTPD documents are a bit vague on their take regarding tiering at ages this young. That may be intentional but there’s bits that you can latch onto as a rationale for early tiering and other bits that seem to indicate it shouldn’t happen.

        I’ve always favoured early tiering and had a conversation today with a TD who had two great examples of the benefits of it he saw this weekend; both were for players in the lower end of the tiered age group.

  2. Fred Cutler says:

    Does the board of my club read this? 😉

  3. Bruce says:

    I wouldn’t expect the parents of young children be aware of items you’ve listed. Even in hockey there’s only a small minority that would have any clue as to the related player development path for their 5 year old. It’s as the child progresses and the passion grows… or doesn’t grow that parents wonder what next. Are we doing what’s right for our kid(s)? If they want to get into this sport, how can we help them? On your site I could not find a link to the LTPD documentation or Jason DeVos’s blog. Even if it’s there, it’s no good if I don’t know what it is or why I should look for it. Parents don’t know what they don’t know in this sport and there are few opportunities for them to realize that there are potentially huge gaps in their knowledge.

    It’s a difficult dynamic in BC (or Canada). Parents can be fairly clueless when it comes to soccer let alone soccer player development and their is no real sense of community in the sport. We all don’t meet at the local club house where information is posted, parents from different age groups can mingle and discuss the sport and their kids, have a beer and burger, or chat with the TD. We’re all pretty much on our own out there. If you don’t know someone who’s been through the process before, it’s all just a black box. Even many of the coaches are at it for the first time. I’m not sure exactly how one goes about changing this given our field allocation and the structure of the leagues, but I think having a more centralized sense of community in the sport would be huge for the sharing of information and player/parent education. Having all the tiers at the same club would also have a very positive impact on education and communication. Might even help with player retention.

    You shouldn’t have to been giving seminars for every age group every year explaining what the next possible steps could be for the players, but somehow that information has to get out there.

  4. Are, perhaps, issues like LTPD being given too much prominence in the youth soccer discussion, particularly as it relates to parents of community youth players? Is framing something like LTPD in terms of presentations to parents – particularly at the very young, community soccer age – not itself an indication of the tail wagging the dog in Canadian soccer? Jason is looking to herd sheep (some very angry sheep, perhaps a few angry rams) in Ontario – I would understand that he needs every tool in the shed.

    I can understand that debates as to LTPD application within the existing soccer community will rage within the circlejerk-ism of those who either care enough for long enough about Canadian soccer or who make their living within Canadian soccer (or in many cases, both). But as a parent of a five, six or seven year old – do I care? Have you ever met a motivated U10 parent who does not understand “development pathway” to the extent it means almost exclusively BCHPL. Child development theory will not cure the angry (but not angry enough to volunteer) parent who takes issue with team composition, playing time, field size or (no) score.

    Perhaps there is a need for parents and ALL soccer coaches to have access to LTPD documentation for reference and guidance. However, I would suggest to you it is about as useful as having a copy of the FIFA Laws of the Game in your kit bag. Few actually read them but all think they understand them and tend to always disagree as to interpretation and application. All sanctioned youth participation should implement LTPD and be accountable for it. Need we say more?

    I do agree with Bruce – there are much more mundane structural things that could and should be looked at and that would facilitate, among other things, LTPD implementation and perhaps more importantly LTPD accountability.

  5. Mancini says:

    I googled L.T.P.D to see what other country is following this amazing Canadian find. I will leave that to others to do the same and see the results. How many millions of dollars have been poured into this Wellness to World Cup when the CSA can’t fund a simple subsidized national soccer league. Everything we are doing is backwards – nothing for the best interest of the players. We are the best recreational soccer in the world and Canada shud be proud.

  6. djlarkins says:

    To be clear, unlike Mancini I have no issue with LTPD. I think it is proper for national and regional bodies to adopt principle based approaches to issues as diverse and apparently contentious as youth soccer, to implement coach development around those principles and to encourage league structures based on those principles. I may be wrong but I believe the CSA’s LTPD and Wellness to World Cup was simply the CSA’s mandated review of the national approach to soccer in Canada based on Sport Canada’s broader LTAD – “A” as in athlete – initiative for all sport development funded by the federal government. Perhaps it is that aspect that upsets some folk.

    My point is that I am not sure that many parents of young soccer players – particuarly those that do not coach for prolonged periods or at higher levels; run clubs or soccer programs; or that have not played on national or professional squads – have LTPD as a priority. I suspect LTPD to most is too conceptual and, in many respects, too long term to be entirely relevant … particularly to their specific child when first introduced to community soccer. However, like Bruce, I wonder if there are other things that may have more immediate implications to keeping youth involved in soccer, facilitating commitments to training and longer term rewards and facilitate LTPD implementation. With so much discussion here in BC around first BCHPL and now LTPD – I just wonder if there is any incentive or inclination to look at anything else that may improve BC youth soccer … or BCHPL longer term prospects … or LTPD implementation and outcomes.

    I never had retention or training issues with kids under the age of 11 (over 15 collective years of coaching) but saw too many good or at least decent players (and players who simply face short term challenges either in terms of development, school or other distractions) drop out over the U11 to U18 years in many respects because of structural and/or organizational issues – things not particularly conceptual in nature – that could perhaps be resolved if there was a platform to do so. Losing players in that age group and the resulting instability undermines the long term in long term player development and a pathway that includes two or three different clubs or organizations (and TDs, coaching, resources, $$$, staff, etc.) – usually it seems one way – is not necessarily facilitating the delivery of LTPD in a manner that is going to provide many, if any, measurable, or unique, postive outcomes. At least in my view.

  7. Fred Cutler says:

    I think the compromise position, and picking up on Jeff’s “positive outcomes” phrase, is that everyone, including those that read the nitty-gritty of LTPD for clubs and coaches, needs to understand that the acronym means one thing for generating a consistent top-40-FIFA national team and another for the remaining 99.999% of players. Sometimes, they get in the way of each other, but at least as a country and a national soccer association we’re sensitive to the trade-offs. (Some of us).

    For the 99%, the benefits are summed up on the LTPD page of the CSA site, but underplayed in actual LTPD manuals where they insist on using bullshit rhetoric like “wellness” when it’s obvious they really care about making pros and a competitive national team. The page says:
    Competitive behaviour is fostered in players, while over-competitive behaviour is discouraged in adults (coaches and parents)
    Players, parents, coaches and administrators understand that players are unique and therefore different in interest and aptitude
    Players stay involved in the sport throughout their lives (as players, coaches, referees or club administrators)
    Soccer grows, and lifelong wellness is promoted for players of all ages, genders and levels of ability and disability

    For me, the benefit of teaching the world’s game well to Canadian kids is to enable them to continue to play (and then volunteer coach) and learn from the game from U18 on. If they include in “wellness” the huge social and psychological benefits that come from working together in a team sport situation, then I’m with LTPD wholeheartedly. But I am still concerned that all of this, “oh geez, how do we lose to Honduras 8-1” handwringing gets in the way of clearheaded pursuit of these benefits for the 99% who will never even play in their city’s men’s Premier division.

    And full disclosure: I’m no softie. I coach a Gold team, hate to lose, shout at refs when they don’t see a ball nick off an opponent’s shoelaces on the way into touch, have my heart on my sleeve for Canada and Australia internationally…. and I really try to _teach_ U9s how to understand the inner workings of the game.

    I think teaching the beauty of the game to these kids is more likely to get them playing on their own in schoolyards and parks (without us coaches and refs) and THAT will lead to players — maybe their kids in a generation — with skill, guile, and creativity, the absence of which is really what keeps us between 50 and 100!

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