As the year comes to an end, we take time to reflect on the year that has passed and plan ahead for the year to come. For Canadian soccer, 2012 has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
The tremendous success of the Women's Olympic team, coming away from London with a bronze medal, is unquestionably the highlight of 2012. The Vancouver Whitecaps' playoff appearance also ranks up there on the list of positives, along with championships for the Ottawa Fury in the W-League and FC London in the PDL.
On the downside, the Men's World Cup team's embarrassing defeat to Honduras, losing 8-1 in their final qualifier when a draw would have been enough to see Canada advance to the next round, is the biggest disappointment. The less said about that, the better.
Looking ahead to 2013, here is my holiday wish list.
1. Free coach education courses.
The biggest advancement we can make in developing more talented players in Canada is to develop more talented coaches. So why not make that education as accessible (i.e. free) as possible?
Many will argue that the CSA should find a corporate partner to pick up the cost of the courses it offers for coaches. This is something that is being investigated by the CSA, but until such time as this becomes a reality, there is another solution.
Clubs and academies across the country should be paying for the education of their own coaches, rather than asking the coaches to foot the bill themselves. By providing professional development for coaches, these organizations are actually making a business investment: they are improving the quality of the product that they deliver.
Many organizations – including provincial and district associations, clubs and academies - are being proactive in this regard and are either offering free courses or are paying the fees for their coaches, both paid staff and volunteers. However, many organizations are not doing this and are instead passing the cost along to the individual coaches. This has to change if we are to take coach education seriously in this country.
2. A vision for the development of the game in Canada, including a national curriculum.
With the hiring of Tony Fonseca as the CSA Technical Director, Canadian soccer now has someone in charge of not only creating a vision for the game in our country, but also for selling it from coast to coast.
Numerous CSA Board members tell me that Fonseca's recent presentation to them was impressive, not only in its concepts, but also in its thoroughness. He has a detailed strategic plan that focuses on all levels of the game in Canada, from the grassroots to the National teams. That is something that has been discussed in Canada ad nauseam. Now is the time to turn words into actions.
A key component of the CSA's strategic plan should be the creation and implementation of a national curriculum. This will serve as a blueprint for coaches to teach young players from Victoria to St. John's.
In the absence of a national curriculum, coaches across the country have been left to fumble around in the dark, year after year, without an understanding of their role in the greater scheme of things. Many coaches in Canada have done an excellent job of developing young players – but they have done so on their own, without following or tying into a national development philosophy.
Imagine if those coaches were working in unison, from the same document, the same blueprint? Would we not then provide a better learning environment – and a more enjoyable soccer experience – for every player involved at every level of the game? And when it comes our National teams, would we not then be more successful at developing players, both male and female, who can go on to compete at the international level?
3. An end to the constant infighting, parochialism and negativity that plagues our game.
I suppose this is the soccer equivalent of wishing for 'world peace'. But why shouldn't we strive for unity? Why shouldn't we strive to be better than those who came before us? Why shouldn't we strive to break away from the status quo?
Change is never easy, as there are countless individuals whose very livelihoods are dependent on the 'system' being broken. They have made a living by slipping through the cracks; they thrive on the ignorance of the average parent, who doesn't know the difference between a holding midfielder and an overlapping fullback.
They can be coaches with no qualifications who poach players from other teams to hide their inability to teach the ones they currently coach; they can be board members who feel that because they have 'put in their time', they are entitled to feast at the trough of power. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they collectively sink our game to the lowest common denominator.
We must strive to be better than that.
We must create exceptional standards for youth soccer in our country, so that the next generation will benefit from better coaches, better training and better competition.
We must find a way for our best players to be developed in the best environments, be they at non-profit community clubs or for-profit private academies. The tension that exists between these two types of organizations is ridiculous. It needs to end and will if both are allowed to be judged by the same set of technical standards, under the same competitive structure.
We must bring an end to the 'what's in it for me?' mentality that plagues our leadership at every level of the game. This is a massive task, because it requires the dismantling of our broken membership structure. The tail has been wagging the dog for too long in Canadian soccer, and it's time for the leaders of the game – the governing body in Canada, the CSA – to start mandating policy and procedure to the membership.
It's a lot to ask for, but if I'm writing about these three things being a reality at this time next year, Canadian soccer will be in a much healthier position than it is at the end of 2012.