I've spent a lot of time recently - more than I would have liked - clearing up some misconceptions about LTPD (Long-Term Player Development, introduced by the Canadian Soccer Association in 2008, for those of you who are new here). The biggest misconception regards the removal of scores and standings in youth soccer for kids under the age of 12.
There have been players, parents and coaches alike who have been critical of this initiative, suggesting that it will remove the 'competitiveness' that our kids need in order to succeed in life, and that there will be no reason for them to play soccer if the scores and standings are not recorded.
While there is no doubt that players need to learn the valuable life lessons that come from winning and losing in sport - after all, there are winners and losers in every walk of life, something that every child will eventually come to discover - do critics really believe that children need to learn these lessons when they are 8, 9, 10 or 11 years old, before they have even acquired the skills with which to play the game?
I have no issue with people being critical of LTPD. After all, everyone is entitled to have an opinion. But would it not be wise for critics to first read the document before coming to the conclusion that it won't work?
You see, if critics actually took the time to read the LTPD document, they would realize that stages 5 and 6 - 'Train to Compete' and 'Train to Win' - are all about winning and losing. The lessons taught in these stages guide young players in how to compete - to play for victory - and how to deal with the disappointment of defeat and how to handle adversity.
I often search for analogies when trying to explain to critics why LTPD is so important. If critics can see it in a context that they can understand, then perhaps they can be won over.
So critics, consider your child's elementary school. Your child's teacher is responsible for educating all of the students under his or her care; he or she is responsible for teaching them, collectively, the skills they need to succeed at a higher level of the education system, and by extension, in life. Your child's teacher does this by introducing new ideas and concepts on a frequent basis, measuring your child's retention of this information, and then tailoring further teaching methods so that every child in the class reaches the desired level of development. Some children are faster on the uptake than others, but in the end, the goal is for every child to 'graduate' to the next level of the education system.
Now, imagine if your child's teacher allowed a couple of kids - those who were naturally brighter than their classmates - to write all of the assessments for the entire class. Your child may come home with an 'A' - which would make you and them happy, I'm sure - but they wouldn't have achieved it themselves, nor would they have learned anything in the process.
Now, do you think your child would succeed in their education when the teacher moved on to more advanced ideas and concepts? Do you think they would be prepared to succeed in their education - and in life - if they glossed over their education with false rewards such as these, by letting other students do all of their work?
Or would your child more likely become frustrated with school, eventually wanting to quit because they weren't given the opportunity to acquire the skills they needed in order to do the work themselves?
This is effectively what is happening in youth soccer in our country. In place of new ideas and concepts being introduced in a classroom, substitute new skills and techniques being introduced in practice on a soccer field. In place of tests and assessments in being used to measure retention in school, substitute soccer games and tournaments being used as measurements of 'success'. However, rather than being used for their intended purpose - vehicles to assess learning needs - games and tournaments are being used as indicators of achievement, regardless of how that achievement is attained. The endless pursuit of winning is blinding people to the absence of teaching and learning.
The vast majority of success in the current structure of youth soccer comes through advanced development – usually physical in nature – of just a few players. Usually, this 'success' also comes at the expense of the development of those players who are less advanced. They are often sloughed off to the side, or worse, replaced by players from elsewhere who are equally advanced in their physical development. Under the current system, it is the 'big, strong, fast' player who succeeds in youth soccer, not the skillful one with potential that needs to be refined.
Organizations who achieve success 'the right way' - by teaching all of their players the fundamentals - do exist, but they are few and far between. And until the emphasis shifts away from winning games and onto developing the skills of every player, those organizations will be the exception, and not the norm.
This is why LTPD is so important. You wouldn't tolerate your child's education being abused like it is in the analogy I've just described. So why would you allow their soccer education to suffer the same abuse?