“The system we had before wasn't perfect but it worked.”
So says the president of London United Soccer Club in a recent London Free Press article discussing why the Henderson Memorial tournament – a youth soccer tournament that has taken place in London, Ontario over the Labour Day weekend for the past 36 years – is being scrapped.
In the article, the president of London United blames the demise of his tournament on the Ontario Soccer Association and the Canadian Soccer Association for the implementation of Long-Term Player Development (LTPD), suggesting, amongst other things, that kids are leaving soccer because there is no trophy for them to win.
He suggests that kids are saying, “I'm not going out just to kick a ball around. I want to be somewhere where it's competitive and at the end of the day have something to show for it.”
Rather than take his word for what ‘the kids are saying', shouldn't we go directly to the kids to hear what they have to say for themselves?
That is what the Ontario Soccer Association did recently, when it conducted a Grassroots Player Survey across the province. Bobby Lennox, the Manager of Grassroots Soccer Development, travelled the province to sit down with players and find out why they play the game, why it's important to them and what role they want adults to play in their soccer experience.
Here is what the kids had to say when asked what was important to them about soccer:
Playing well, learning new skills, playing fairly, being with friends and having fun playing soccer all rank ahead of winning trophies. If the president of London United is to be believed, surely winning trophies should be the overwhelming response as to what is important to kids, shouldn't it?
When asked what role adults should play in youth soccer, here is what the kids had to say:
Again, note the heavy emphasis on having fun, learning skills and improving, as well as the aversion kids have to being told what to do and being yelled at during games.
Far too often winning trophies is more important to the parents than it is to the kids. Inexplicably, many reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned adults simply lose control of themselves when they get involved in youth soccer, compromising the experience for their children along the way.
The president of London United is misguided and misinformed.
Not only does he not understand that LTPD creates a better soccer experience for more young players by relieving the pressure to win on players below the age of 12, he also confuses the cost of LTPD with the cost of the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) – a high performance youth soccer league that was launched in 2014 for elite soccer players in Ontario.
If the president of a soccer club can't be bothered to get his facts straight, what chance do the members of his club have of being well-informed?
Canadian soccer needs sweeping change. Canada's men's national team currently ranks 118th in the FIFA world rankings - a shocking indictment on our collective ability to develop players over the years. Change needs to happen at many levels, but it starts by having intelligent, well-informed leaders in key positions, rather than people who want to bury their heads in the sand so they can maintain the status quo.