The future of Ontario’s beautiful game

by Jennifer MacKinnon | May 1, 2013
Kid soccer

The Ontario Soccer Association is introducing a new Long-Term Player Development strategy, which is expected to be implemented locally within the next year. FILE PHOTO.

In 2013, the Ontario Soccer Association is introducing a new Long-Term Player Development (LTDP) strategy. LTDP is intended to promote lifelong enjoyment of the game, develop elite players and share best practices.

Despite Canada’s bronze medal for women’s soccer at the 2012 London Olympics, Canada is not known internationally as a soccer country. The hope of LTPD is to eventually improve our national teams’ performances at the highest level.

The theory behind LTPD is that less emphasis on winning at younger ages will mean smaller children will have the opportunity to learn to play soccer better.

In Sudbury, with roughly 6,000 children, youths and adults playing, soccer is the biggest participation sport in the city. So how will LTPD look in Sudbury?

The Ontario Soccer Association has mandated that competitive soccer clubs implement LTPD by 2014 at the latest.

In Sudbury, the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club is the city’s only youth developmental and competitive soccer club, offering soccer for children aged eight to 18. Some of the changes the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club will make include a bigger emphasis on practicing and building basic soccer skills — passing, shooting and ball control — and the creation of nine-on-nine games for children who are too big for mini-field soccer but too small to play on the full field.

The Greater Sudbury Soccer Club is also doing its best to ensure fairness in its league, meaning that every child will play in each and every game.

Recreational soccer clubs in the Sudbury area — Sudburnia Soccer Club, Nickel Centre Soccer Club, Rayside-Balfour Soccer Association, Valley East Soccer Club, and Walden Minor Soccer Association — are strongly encouraged to implement the LTPD system, although not currently mandated by the Ontario Soccer Association to do so.

By ensuring we develop all our players, Canada can only get better.

Each recreational club is implementing LTPD differently, with varying plans and timelines. A big challenge is recruiting parents interested in becoming qualified coaches.

Recruiting qualified coaches is a challenge that the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club and the Sudbury Regional Soccer Association are working on together.

Jeff McNeil, coach with the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club, said he is pleased with how all the clubs are working together to further LTPD in Sudbury.

“Coaches will be trained to provide fun, interactive, yet challenging practice sessions,” he said. “Coach training sessions open to people from all clubs is a great way for all of us to work together to support LTPD.”

Probably the biggest obstacle in implementing the new strategy is resistance from parents who feel removing competition from soccer will make the sport less enjoyable.

Brian Ashton, northern regional head coach for the Ontario Soccer Association, said LTPD is not removing games from soccer.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about LTPD is that it is taking competition away from kids. Kids will show up on the field and play to win, but at the end of the game, often the only people who really care about the score are the parents and the coaches.”

Winning is the easiest way to measure success in sports, but many coaches and parents have become so focused on winning at all costs that the sport has suffered. Instead of helping build basic soccer skills in all players, some coaches have favoured the stronger players and benched the weaker ones, poached top players from other teams and used fear to motivate.

Ashton, who has played on a number of Canadian national soccer teams, has seen first-hand how younger players around the world have better ball control than players at the same age in Canada.

“By ensuring we develop all our players, Canada can only get better.”

Everyone has a memory of a coach that yelled at players, or sat players on the bench. How many of us remember it fondly? If LTPD works properly, these tactics will be gone.

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