The Canadian Soccer Association has not had a Technical Director in place since Stephen Hart left the job to accept the position of men's national team coach in 2009. Since that time, Canada has lacked a figurehead - someone to oversee the technical development of the game in Canada. Now, it appears that void is about to be filled.
The CSA posted the position of Technical Director this week, with applications being accepted until August 3. The posting reads, in part:
The Technical Director of the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) is responsible for the overall management and direction of the technical growth and development of soccer in Canada, including player and coach development/education, the youth, para, beach and futsal national teams programmes, and for technical-related organization within the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA).
The full posting can be found here.
While it is encouraging to see the CSA going to market for this position, the truth is that hiring a Technical Director is only the starting point in the CSA's journey for technical improvement. There are three key positions that need to be created and/or aligned below the Technical Director in order for that individual to effectively move the game forward in Canada.
The first key position is the Director of Coaching Development. Ray Clark is the current Director of Coaching and Player Development, but I would modify that role to focus solely on coaching development. The single biggest impediment to our development as a soccer nation is the scarcity of trained, qualified coaches at the grassroots level. The key objective of the Director of Coaching Development should be the free (yes, free!) education of coaches working with young players across the country.
Due to the fact that there are so few full-time coaching positions at the grassroots level, there is little incentive for coaches to incur the significant costs of an advanced education as a soccer coach. With no prospect of recovering their educational investment, coaches get by on the bare minimum qualification, resulting in a nation of poorly trained coaches. The byproduct of having a nation of poorly trained coaches is a nation of poorly developed players.
The second key position is the Director of Youth Soccer Development, a position that does not currently exist. The United States has a similar position, Youth Soccer Technical Director, currently held by former U.S. National team captain, Claudio Reyna. The creation of this position would have a dramatic impact on the development of young players across Canada.
The primary responsibility of this position would be to overhaul the competitive structures in which young players compete across the country. The current competitive structures rely on promotion and relegation to streamline elite players. This practice has resulted in youth players being selected based on their physical characteristics (directly linked to their ability to "win" against less physically mature players) rather than on their technical ability. As a result, young players across the country are failing to acquire the technical skills needed for long-term success in the game during the correct stages of their development. Why focus on skill development when you can "win" with physicality?
Overhauling the competitive structures across the country will allow clubs and academies to refocus their energies to where they should be - teaching players to master the fundamentals. While learning how to win games is an important component of player development, it isn't until players have mastered the fundamentals that this should be a priority. Changing the competitive structures in which young players compete - to more progressive ones where the emphasis is on skill acquisition and development - is the best way to affect this change.
The third key position is the Director of Referee Development. Tiger Liu is the current Head of Refereeing for the CSA, but his position lies in the Soccer Administration Department, rather than the Technical Department, where it should reside.
A clearly defined development pathway for referees has been created under the guidance of Joe Guest, former Head of Refereeing for the CSA, now the current Deputy General Secretary. Liu has the responsibility of carrying on the work started by Guest, but as his role is technical in nature, it should fall under the guidance of the Technical Director.
The development of better coaches and referees, married to the correct development environment for players, will result in a significant upturn in our ability to develop players capable of competing at the international level for Canada. For too long now, we have relied on our athleticism to get results at the international level. Unless we make these progressive changes, we will continue to fall further behind other nations as the technical gap between our players and theirs will continue to grow.
The hiring of a new Technical Director is a very positive step forward for the CSA. But one person alone – regardless of whom he or she is – cannot fix Canadian soccer. The scale of the job is simply too vast. The Technical Director needs to be given both the financial and human resources to define the technical direction of the game in Canada. Failure to provide those resources will doom the Technical Director to failure.