On Tuesday, Canada Soccer unveiled its new technical development vision for soccer in Canada, entitled Canada Soccer Pathway. Your Goals. Our Game. The pathway consists of three streams of play: recreational, competitive and EXCEL (the high performance level of the game).
On hand to discuss the pathway were Canada Soccer Technical Director, Tony Fonseca, women's national team head coach, John Herdman, and Canada Soccer Long-Term Player Development Manager, Sylvie Béliveau.
According to Béliveau, the pathway is "built around the principles of long-term player development and encourages lifelong participation. At Canada Soccer, we believe all players deserve the best possible soccer experience, and our Canada Soccer Pathway is designed to place their needs front and centre at each and every stage."
The creation of different streams in youth soccer is long overdue, and a move that is likely to be met with approval across the country. Clubs are the primary delivery agents of the recreational and competitive streams, and in the coming weeks, Canada Soccer will release a national curriculum that supports coaches working with players in the first three stages of LTPD. Canada Soccer hopes to have the curriculum for the rest of the stages ready for release by the end of the summer.
The national curriculum will be a valuable resource for coaches – especially for the thousands of volunteer coaches across the country working with young players.
The curriculum will contain a "Preferred Training Model" that incorporates "station work", so that clubs that are heavily reliant on volunteer coaches can maximize their resources in order to provide the best development environment possible. The preferred model allows for a four-parent collective approach to training, and frees up the volunteer parent-coach from trying to impart too much technical or tactical information in one session.
There are many benefits of taking such an approach at the early stages of player development. It maximizes the availability of coaching and facility resources, it aids volunteer parent coaches by allowing them to pool their knowledge, and it places players into an environment that meets their learning needs, where shorter, diverse sessions are broken up into varying activities of different intensity.
There are some questions that still need to be addressed with such an approach, though.
Utilizing a "station work" approach to training requires guidance and oversight from a trained facilitator or coach educator. Do the majority of clubs across the country that are working with players between the ages of 4-12 have coach educators on staff? If not, how does Canada Soccer train coaches to be able to perform this role?
Is the long-awaited "Children's License" that has been in development finally going to be given the resources it needs to be completed? The Preferred Training Model suggests that an assessment-based coaching qualification such as this is required, so one would hope that its completion would be given top priority.
More pressing questions arise when one looks further along the Canada Soccer Pathway.
Given the significance of HP (high-performance) leagues in the Pathway, will Canada Soccer assume direct control of these leagues? If not, how will Canada Soccer ensure that such leagues will be open to both non-profit community clubs and for-profit private academies?
If Canada Soccer is going to leave the operation of HP leagues to the respective provincial associations, how will Canada Soccer ensure that political forces do not undermine technical decisions – like the inclusion of private academies? If we are serious about creating the best possible environments for player development in Canada, then politics have no place in our technical decision-making process.
Among the documents released on Tuesday was a community guide for long-term player development, as well as a women's EXCEL program guide for players and parents. Both documents provide some valuable insight into the direction of the game in Canada.
Those expecting Tuesday's announcement to contain the answers for all of our developmental woes will feel very underwhelmed. Our problems run deep, and require a series of detailed, long-term solutions.
While this is just the first step, it is important to remember that every long journey starts with a single step. I, for one, am hopeful that this step will take us in the right direction.