We seem to be on the verge of another developmental breakthrough with the promise of a national curriculum being announced by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) by year end.
We’re seeing a good buy-in, particularly here in BC, to the CSA’s Long Term Player Development model and the rollout of Technical Director Tony Fonseca’s accompanying curriculum will be a big step.
Once that’s out it’s time to move beyond documents and get on field with our best players in a coordinated, CSA driven academy setting along the lines of a junior NTC (National Training Centre). Having the CSA run a national network of affordable, academies operated in conjunction with a variety of service providers with strong oversight and accountability criteria would be a very progressive step.
I see these as being specifically for U6-U12 players with a tapering, in each region, of the number of players as they move through these age groups.
In terms of parameters, here’s some initial ideas:
- Fully LTPD compliant (obviously)
- 32 week program for U6 to U8; 36 week program for U9-U10; 40 week program for U11 and up
- U6 to U8 component is 2x week; training to game ratio 4:1; max cost $500
- U9-10 component is 3x week (75 minute sessions); training to game ratio 3:1; max cost $900
- U11-U12 components is 3x week (90 minute sessions); training to game ratio 3:1; max cost $1200
- U13 and up component is flexible and should bridge into Whitecaps Prospects program
- CSA should solicit RFP’s from individuals, clubs and academies. Shortlist should face rigorous, open interview process, peer review and multiple on-field training session evaluations for each age group they propose to run as part of the application process. Successful candidates should have two year contracts with an option for two more subject to a comprehensive review in the second year.
- RFP applicants need to demonstrate access to both artificial and grass fields as well as occasional access to gym facilities.
- RFP applicants need to demonstrate all staff are certified to standard set by CSA for the age group they will be working with.
- All sessions should be run off the CSA generated curriculum.
- Objective measurement tools should be developed that allow CSA to evaluate technical levels of players (wall pass, modified keep ups, striking for accuracy and power, movement with ball). The ability of coaches to demonstrate during the length of their contract that they have moved players forward should be the primary factor in determining if their contract is renewed; not game scores.
- Remuneration needs to be sufficiently high to attract best coaches but not so high that it makes working with budget impossible. The best coaches should be on field working with these players 75% of the time and spend 25% of their time monitoring quality of instruction of other coaches.
- For Metro Vancouver, locate one in North Surrey and one in the proposed CSA Training Centre at UBC*.
- Sessions would run from 4pm onwards with youngest players training in earlier time slots.
- Players evaluated on an on-going basis; adjustments made annually as players are moved in and out.
Currently, we are likely ten years behind many other CONCACAF elite development systems. Factor in that those systems are still evolving and getting better and the ten year target is actually a moving target…as in moving away from us.
This network of academies with comprehensive oversight by the CSA would come close to replicating what top European clubs do in their Academy: regular after school training with other strong players run by capable coaches interested purely in development. It starts as early as the age of six there so if we’re to have any hope of catching up with the States, Mexico and (8-1) Honduras then we need to draw a line in the grass and seriously start differentiating between recreational soccer experiences, which we do very well, and developmental experiences for prospective elite players. Continued discussion around boardroom tables and Twitter that produces documents has its place but runs the risk of becoming entrenched navel-gazing. Unless we want to see our ten year gap extend to twelve and then fifteen years we need a bold set of actual actions to be implemented. For me, it’s crucial this starts with our youngest players, has central oversight, has a rigorous screening process to procure the best available coaches across the country, is financially sustainable (meaning there will have to be some parent dollars involved but not so many that we exclude those that can’t afford it) and has a bi-annual accountability mechanism with some serious teeth.
I like that a lot of thought, at the national and provincial level, has gone into re-inventing how we develop players. A lot of bright, talented people have made a great contribution to putting together the LTPD documents and I’m confident that the new curriculum will also be a big step forward. After that though, pencils down, boots on. Implementation has to be the key word. We have an excellent club structure for U6 to U12 recreational players. We need a new approach to working with our most promising U6-U12 players and a national network of Academies would be the bold statement needed for us to catch up on the CONCACAF front and see us seriously compete for men’s World Cup places in the future and keep us among the elite in women’s soccer as more and more countries start throwing resources into the women’s game.
*Which was announced over a year ago and has still not seen a single shovel hit the ground on fields or buildings.