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deVos: Is this the future of Canadian soccer?

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Jason deVos
1/7/2014 12:22:52 PM
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Sometime in the not too distant future...

After a thorough 12-month development process, the Canadian Soccer Association's board of directors approves their new five-year strategic plan. The board gives the CSA's General Secretary the green light to begin the strategic activities laid out in the plan, setting in motion a flurry of activity.

The CSA's Technical Director immediately convenes a video conference with the Technical Directors from each of the provincial branches of the CSA. (Provincial associations were deemed an unnecessary complication long ago, and were replaced by provincial branches of the CSA. These branches are staffed by CSA employees, and there is no provincial branch board of directors hindering operations).

The provincial branch Technical Directors then conference in their regional Technical Directors. (Districts were also deemed an unnecessary complication long ago, and were replaced by regional branches of the CSA. Likewise, these branches are staffed by CSA employees, and there is no regional branch board of directors.)

The CSA technical director informs his staff on the video conference that the latest instalment of the CSA's training curriculum is available for all members on the CSA's website. Grassroots coaches across the country need only to log onto the CSA website with their user name and password (which they receive when they register for a CSA coach education course) to download age and ability specific session plans and video demonstrations for their respective age groups. Online resources are freely available for coaches to continue their education through the CSA. On the CSA website, coaches can also book mentoring sessions with CSA coach educators, who are dispersed throughout the country working at the provincial and regional branches.

There are three levels of play within the CSA's player development pathway: Recreational (formerly known as house league); Regional (formerly known as "rep" or "competitive" soccer, with travel occurring within a provincial region); and High Performance (the highest level of the development pathway, where training and competition takes place at high performance organizations that work in partnership with the CSA's network of coaches and coach educators across the country.)

Each level of play is standards-based; if your club or academy (because the CSA's development pathway is open to ALL organizations) meets the standards set by the CSA for recreational, regional or high performance competition, your organization has the opportunity to participate at that level. Clubs and academies do not fight each other for players. Instead, they put the needs of the player ahead of their own. If a player's ability exceeds the level at which his or her organization currently competes, the player is encouraged to move to the nearest organization that competes at the appropriate level for the player.

Clubs and academies offer a variety of programs throughout the year, including futsal and technical skill development courses, all delivered by trained, professional coaches. Many of these coaches only coach part-time, as the program costs are kept to a minimum. But they all receive the same access to learning opportunities through the CSA's coach education program. This program is free of charge, as the CSA has signed a long-term sponsorship contract with one of Canada's major corporations to offset what the CSA considers to be the single biggest factor in developing better players - developing better coaches.

When I register my daughter to play soccer for the Oakville Soccer Club, I simply navigate to the CSA's website where, through a series of drop-down menus, I choose Ontario (province), Peel Halton (region), Oakville SC (club), Girls (gender), Recreational (program). I pay the registration fee online, and the payment is instantly distributed from the CSA to the appropriate recipients. The largest portion goes to the club, who naturally bear most of the financial cost of delivering the program, but a percentage also goes to the regional and provincial branches of the CSA, who oversee player, coach and referee development in those areas. The CSA retains a portion of the fee itself, so that it may operate its national team programs accordingly.

Within five days, I receive a laminated registration card for my daughter in the mail. It has her name, photo (because I uploaded her picture when I registered her online) and registration number displayed on the front of the card. This registration card serves as her player identification card for the upcoming season, which she brings with her to every game.

On the back of the card is a list of all of the CSA's corporate partners. Presenting this card entitles me to a 20 per cent discount on any merchandise I purchase from any one of those partners. So, at the beginning of the year when I purchase my daughter's new soccer shoes, I simply do my shopping at the preferred CSA partner, where I receive my discount...

This sounds great, doesn't it. It's almost utopian, it's so simple. It makes you wonder why it hasn't been this way all along.

This isn't fiction, though - I didn't make this up off the top of my head, trying to build some crazy, idealistic vision of how soccer in Canada should function. This could very well be what soccer in Canada looks like in the not too distant future.

I took some artistic license, yes. My frustration at the inane bureaucracy that has plagued our game for decades prompted me to eliminate provincial and district boards in the scenario I just described. That isn't going to happen. The best that we can hope for is that all provincial and district members of the CSA mirror the national body's governance structure - something that is written into the new strategic plan.

Some of the other ideas are not as far from becoming reality as one might think, though. The concept of a registration card for each and every one of the CSA's 850,000 members - including the idea of direct access to discounts through the CSA's network of corporate partners - is very real, and is also written into the strategic plan. It falls under the pillar of "professional governance of our sport" as "building a national database."

Remarkably, despite having 850,000 members, the CSA has no database of information about its membership. There are no names on a list, no email addresses neatly filed away on a server somewhere - because the CSA has never had a mechanism to centralize its registration process. That is all going to change under the new strategic plan.

Direct access to the CSA's membership is a goldmine for the CSA, for its corporate partners and for its members. What company doesn't want to have a direct relationship with their customers? And what customer (CSA member) doesn't want to get a discount on merchandise? The simple step of centralizing registration will give the CSA tremendous marketing power, its corporate partners real value for their investment in Canadian soccer, and most importantly, its members a tangible benefit for registering with the CSA.

The success of the CSA's plan will depend on a number of factors, not least of which is you. Will you support the CSA, get behind their ideas and strategic priorities (which, I have to say, were developed in part through your consultation) and do whatever you can to make these initiatives a success? Or will you do what so many have chosen to do in the past - stand on the sidelines and criticize, never once offering to help turn ideas into reality?

Not all of the objectives listed in the CSA's strategic plan will be met in the years ahead. But if the most important ones can be achieved, we can all start looking forward to a much brighter future for soccer in Canada.

Soccer Ball (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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