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deVos: Now is the time for CSA to mandate change

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Jason deVos
7/8/2013 9:22:52 AM
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Canada's men's national team lost its opening game of the 2013 Concacaf Gold Cup on Sunday, after they were blanked 1-0 by Martinique.

That's right. Martinique.

You can add this result to the growing list of international embarrassments for Canadian soccer.

We've had our fair share of suffering in Canadian soccer over the years. An 8-1 loss to Honduras that eliminated us from World Cup contention back in October; failure to reach the World Cup finals since 1986, our one and only appearance; a 2-0 loss to Cuba in the 2003 Gold Cup that saw us crash out at the group stage.

If you think our embarrassments are unique to the men's program, think again. Twelve months before coming home with a bronze medal from the 2012 Olympic Games, Canada's women's team finished dead last in the 2011 women's World Cup, losing all three group games.

Critics can blame the players, the coaches, the weather, the field conditions or any combination of other factors. They are nothing more than excuses.

The brutally honest truth is this: we are simply not good enough.

That criticism is not leveled at the players, the coaches or staff, who represent our country. They do their very best when wearing the red jersey, and on some occasions - like during last year's Olympic Games - they pull off the impossible.

The criticism applies to us - you, me and anyone else who is involved in Canadian soccer at any level. We are not good enough.

We have stood idly by and allowed soccer to become nothing more than a recreational sport in our country. We have allowed the game to sink to the lowest common denominator, and we have done nothing - absolutely nothing - to put in place an effective development system for players, coaches and referees in Canada.

While there are over 850,000 registered soccer players across the country, the vast majority of them are recreational players. Very, very few of them go through what can even loosely be described as an effective development program.

Our youth soccer system emphasizes winning over development. The result is a pool of players who fail to master the fundamental skills required to compete at the elite levels of the game.

The players - both male and female - who do manage to go on to represent Canada do so by chance, rather than by design. They reach the national team through their own will and determination, not because they have followed a well-researched, well-designed development pathway.

It is time for that to change. It is time for the Canadian Soccer Association to put its money where its mouth is and to mandate change in soccer across the country.

That's right. Mandate.

Asking for clubs to implement the principles of LTPD is not good enough. Asking for coaches to educate themselves is not good enough. Asking for leagues to implement minimum standards for coaching qualifications, training-to-game ratios and competition formats (including the removal of promotion and relegation) is not good enough.

All of these things must be mandated. Because if the CSA leaves it up to the clubs, districts or leagues - if they make compliance with these things "opt-in" or optional - they simply won't happen. Because there is nothing stopping these things from being done voluntarily right now - other than the fact that we, as a nation, sink to the lowest common denominator.

How can these changes be mandated? Easy. Create two streams of soccer in Canada - recreational and high-performance.

Most clubs across the country do an excellent job of offering recreational soccer programs. The evidence is right there in the numbers - over 850,000 players from coast to coast.

Leave the recreational programs as they are, and offer those clubs access to coach and referee education, as well as to a national development curriculum for recreational players.

Then create a high-performance stream and mandate that organizations must meet the technical standards required to be involved in that stream. Both non-profit clubs and for-profit academies should be allowed to enter the high-performance stream - provided that they all meet the required standards.

This isn't difficult to do, but it requires the CSA to flex its muscles a little bit. Given that there are high-performance leagues either already in existence (BC, Quebec) or about to get underway (Ontario), the CSA might be surprised just how little resistance there would be to such a plan.

And here's another important component of pulling this off - the CSA needs to sing it from the rooftops.

The CSA needs to go on national television and lay it all out on the table. Tell anyone and everyone what the plan is and why it is being implemented. Go across the country and hold open-mike town hall meetings where Tony Fonseca, the CSA's Technical Director, answers questions about the CSA's plan until all the questions have been answered.

That is Fonseca's job; he needs to be able to sell the game from coast to coast. He needs to be able to win over skeptics, to convince the many likeminded people who truly care about the game in our country to start pulling in the same direction and start working to fix the broken mess that we've tolerated for decades in Canada. If he can't do that, then he is wrong man for the job.

How many embarrassments must we suffer before we say 'enough is enough'? How many more failed qualifying campaigns must we endure before we realize that the time to change is now?

The time for change is now. 

Lucas Cavallini Doneil Henry (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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