There are many pitfalls in youth soccer in our country. Over-invested parents; the pressure to win at too young an age; high-pressure coaches who focus on winning instead of on development; and increased dropout rates because of these and other factors are just some of story lines that we see repeated over and over.
Much of this negativity comes because of our collective mindset that the only way for us to measure our children's progress in soccer is through the scores of their games. How many points their team gets and how many goals our children score have, for too many years, been the metrics by which we gauge their progress.
But what if there was a different way to develop soccer players in Canada? What if we could simply teach kids to play better?
That is the goal of Willie Cromack, founder of 'Play Better', an innovative plan to improve sport culture in Canada. The program attempts to shift the mindset of players and parents alike, away from scoreboard success and towards empowering children to discover their potential - both as soccer players and as human beings.
'Play Better' is a grassroots soccer program designed to provide clubs, coaches, parents and players with a clear and accountable pathway through soccer. This includes an LTPD-compliant curriculum, lesson plans complete with desired outcomes, video training sessions, as well as tools for gathering metrics beyond simply the number of goals scored.
The reason behind the gathering of those metrics is where the genius lies.
'Play Better' aims to marry a holistic charitable program with the training and development of young soccer players.
The program does through by asking teams to do the following:
• Choose a cause or charity. For example; the SPCA, the Canadian Cancer Society or your local children's hospital.
• Choose a baseline metric. For example; a recreational team can choose 100 completed passes per game. A more competitive team can choose a larger number, such as 200 completed passes. This is called the team goal or team 'win'.
• Have a pre-season meeting with parents to explain your objective; for every game in which your team achieves its team 'win', ask parents (or friends, family members or sponsors) to donate a pre-determined dollar amount to the team cause/charity. The monetary amount is not important - it can be as little as a loonie per parent/family.
• Create a team website, where the kids can tell their story. It gives them a chance to explain, in their own words, how achieving their objective every game will not only help them become better soccer players, but also make a difference in the world. It also allows them to track and promote how much money they have raised for their chosen cause/charity.
Team Falcons is a U11 boys gold soccer team in North Vancouver. Click here to see how they have committed to 'Play Better'.
I am often asked how we can shift away from the win-at-all-costs mentality that has infected youth soccer in our country. As I have written many times before, it is one of the biggest hurdles we must overcome if we are to create an effective youth development system in Canada.
It isn't the players that we need to convince; it is the parents. A program like 'Play Better' might just be the bridge we need to achieve this.
As the members of Team Falcons can attest, players participating in 'Play Better' quickly realize that their sporting endeavours have a bigger meaning. It isn't just about winning and losing anymore - it is about helping others.
This teaches players to work on their fundamental skills (to complete 100 or 200 passes per games, players have to focus on what they learn in training), but more importantly, it teaches them about helping others, about community investment and about personal growth.
What parent doesn't want their child to learn those lessons?
If these lessons can be tied into the technical development of young soccer players, then Canadian soccer could be onto something big.
*If you or your team is interested in 'Play Better', you can read more about the program here, or contact Willie Cromack at firstname.lastname@example.org