It was great to see that the Ontario Soccer Association, in conjunction with the Canadian Soccer Association, hosted a major FIFA Grassroots coaching course last week.
The 4-day program attracted some of the province’s most qualified coaches to participate in a program that is sure to benefit soccer-playing youngsters in the years ahead.
Ontario is in the process of implementing Long-Term Player Development, a philosophy that aims to place individual skill development at the forefront of the how coaches approach their job.
For years, the emphasis has been, at the younger ages, on winning games. This creates a thought process—and ultimately a youth soccer culture—whereby coaches look to recruit the biggest, oldest and fastest players at these early ages, so their ‘rep’ teams can “win” their local league and advance in the so-called pyramid of play to the best leagues.
However, that approach has often resulted in misplaced priorities as well as missing ‘late-bloomers’ and discouraging a majority of players from staying in the sport. These are often youngsters who were attracted to the sport in the first place but have been relegated to the sidelines because they weren’t quite big or fast enough to compete the way their coaches wanted them to when they were 9, 10 and 11 years of ages.
By the age of 13 or thereabouts, they are gone from the game.
The LTPD vision, while surely not perfect, at least aims to create a different attitude to coaching at the early ages, and a more thoughtful approach when it comes to how we develop young players.
Some kids are “stars” at the early ages, relying on being bigger and faster than their less physically developed peers. However, they often flatten out later in their “career” because they did not get the coaching required to help them work on their actual skills. Instead, those coaches played a kick and chase game that led to victories—but not better, more skilled young players.
At the same time, many players develop later, but by the time they do, the “system” has essentially cast them aside when it comes to consideration for provincial play, etc..
LTPD, hopefully, will change attitudes, and encourage coaches to work to help all youngsters develop their skills and stay in love with the game. This FIFA conference is another step in the right direction.