After Canada's embarrassing 8-1 defeat to Honduras in World Cup qualifying, Canadian soccer is in desperate need of some tough love.
So here it comes.
We, as a nation, do a terrible job of developing soccer players.
From the time young players in Canada begin kicking a soccer ball, they encounter a player development system that is a broken, fractured mess. They often have unqualified, volunteer coaches, poor (if any) training facilities, an over-emphasis on winning over skill development and programs that are set up by adults who have no idea how to develop young soccer players.
Players who actually make it out alive and go on to represent our Men's and Women's National teams do so IN SPITE of our player development system, not because of it.
The knee-jerk reaction after a humiliating loss is to blame the individuals involved - the players and the coach.
"They were all awful! Get rid of them all! Fire the CSA!"
This is typical of armchair critics. It's also the easiest, and least productive, kind of analysis. It achieves nothing, other than for the critic to let off steam.
Instead, let's look for a solution. Rather than blaming the players and the coach, why don't we instead find a way to fix the pathetic development system that is producing such a shallow pool of talented players?
Here is where we begin. This is tough love, remember. You probably aren't going to like this.
We need to mandate change.
Our governing bodies, from the CSA to the Provincial Soccer Associations, are terrified of the word 'mandate', because it carries with it an implied loss of revenue. Their worry is this: If the governing bodies mandate change - even if it is for the good of the game in Canada (like the CSA's LTPD program) – members across the country will rebel against the change.
Their worry is that the work required from members to meet the mandated changes will lead to a drop-off in registrations. This will then lead to a massive loss of revenue (through lost registration dollars) for Districts, Provincial Associations and ultimately, the CSA.
Well, folks, it's time for the tail to stop wagging the dog.
We need the changes of LTPD to be mandated across the country. That includes the minimum coaching, training and competition standards contained within LTPD.
We need a national curriculum that can be distributed to every club and academy in the country, so that coaches know what they should be teaching players, and at what stage of the players' development they should be taught.
We need standards-based, high-performance youth leagues established in every province, so that we can have the correct environment in which to train our best players, coaches and referees. These leagues can, and will, eventually lead to a regionalized, nation-wide development league, similar to Major Junior Hockey. We can't create that league until we have developed the players who are going to populate it.
We need to shift our District and Regional programs towards talent identification, so that no young player will miss an opportunity to fulfill their potential because it was never identified. We can then shift our Provincial team programs towards being project-based; where our best players get periodically selected to participate in international training camps and competitions.
Our National team programs will then have a broader base of players from which to choose, as every Province will have its own unique – yet clearly defined – development pathway for players. The larger Provinces will always produce the most players as they have bigger player pools, but every Province can, and should, contribute.
Now, bring on the critics and naysayers.
Coaching courses too expensive? I suggest the CSA finds a corporate partner to underwrite the costs, so that coaches, who are willing to learn, don't have to pay out of their own pocket to do so. The CSA has done a tremendous job of developing corporate partnerships in recent years - here is a vital area that desperately needs funding. Want to be the corporate partner that saved Canadian soccer? Here is your chance to play a big part.
The CSA doesn't have the resources, both human and financial, to write a national curriculum? Ask for help! Every knowledgeable, intelligent coach I know across the country is disgusted and embarrassed that we lost 8-1 to Honduras. If I asked them to participate in writing a national curriculum, they'd do it – for free. These aren't unqualified coaches offering to lend a hand – they each hold multiple National 'A' licenses and cumulatively, hundreds of years of experience coaching at every level of the game.
Are the standards to be involved in a high-performance youth league too high for your club or academy? Maybe your place in the development pathway shouldn't be at the high-performance level? Perhaps your place in the pathway is at the recreational level. Perhaps this awareness will give your club or academy the impetus needed to make changes in order to meet those high standards, so that one day it can become a high-performance club?
Every problem has a solution, if you are only willing to stop making excuses.
Speaking of excuses, spare me the argument that our problems are unique to the men's program, and that our women's program is, in fact, in great shape.
Despite an incredible performance against France that clinched an Olympic bronze medal for our Women's National team, we are falling further and further behind the top nations in the women's game.
Why? Because in Canada, we develop female players in exactly the same way as we develop male players!
The difference is, there are only around 15 nations in the world that invest significant resources into their women's programs. Some of them – France, Japan, North Korea – are making tremendous strides forward in their technical and tactical development of players. We are not, because we continue to play the same broken record of player development over and over again. We are no better on the women's side than we are on the men's – there are just less teams competing.
After the humiliation our entire program suffered against Honduras, it is easy to place blame on individuals like coaches or players. I can do it, you can do it – anyone can do it.
What is far more difficult is finding solutions to problems that are systematic. Failure to qualify for yet another World Cup is a massive disappointment for Canada, but it should, once and for all, force everyone involved with the game in our country to realize that we have a serious problem.
That's right. We have a serious problem.
Now, let's stop complaining about it and do something to fix it.