For the past 10 years, my business has provided fitness testing, training, and coach education to soccer players, coaches and teams from countless different amateur youth soccer clubs across Ontario. During this time, I have had many discussions and conversations with the club head coaches, members of technical staff, and even the administrators and board members from these different organizations. During these discussions I have realized that, although virtually all amateur youth soccer clubs across Ontario have the goal of developing better soccer players, they simply do not have enough time and resources to adequately build and deliver player development programs. The reason for this lack of time and resources is that youth amateur soccer clubs are presently set up to divide their energy and their focus between both recreational “house league”, and competitive “rep” – or player development – programs. Although clubs run these two separate soccer streams believing they have the best interests of the players in mind, the end result is that the house league and rep programs compete for resources, and the synergies between these programs are limited at best.
One main problem facing amateur youth soccer clubs in Ontario today is that they have a very high cost (in both dollars, and time spent) to administer their house league programs. These programs can have hundreds if not thousands of registered players, and thus they require a significant amount of time, resources, and manpower to run efficiently. All house league programs, unfortunately, present little to no benefit to any soccer club’s competitive / development stream. This is because the great majority of the players involved in recreational or house league soccer have no ambition of playing soccer competitively and/or progressing to become a professional or National Team player (so they will never be participants in the development stream). Thus the high costs associated with an amateur club’s house league program are simply not justified by any benefits they may provide to the same club’s competitive / player development program.
A second problem for amateur youth soccer clubs is that their competitive / player development streams need to be broader, and more inclusive. Most clubs operate their competitive programs under a system whereby players are identified and selected out of house leagues when they are 7-8 years old. After this age, players in the house league program have a very small chance of being identified, because the club’s house league and rep / competitive programs run in parallel to each other, and there is little to no scouting in the house league programs from the ages of 9 and up. Even most club’s rep / competitive programs, although some have been re-structured as standards-based systems such as the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), still comprise rosters of only 15-20 players per age group. So the total number of rep / competitive players in any club’s developmental streams is still very small in relation to the total number of recreational / house league players. This presents a problem for clubs because, in order for a club to deliver a standards-based developmental program, they must employ professional / paid coaches, fitness coaches, and athletic therapists (all of whom must be paid for their work), and also invest a significant amount of money and resources into indoor/outdoor field rentals, and team travel. Thus the traditional model for most amateur clubs’ developmental programs, whereby only the players deemed “good enough” at 7-8 years of age, are selected into the competitive/player development stream, is simply not sustainable, because this very small number of players will be forced to bear the very high cost (paying coaches, fitness coaches, athletic therapists, field/gym rentals, team travel, etc..) associated with administering these player development programs.
One potential solution which may help standards-based player development programs (like the Ontario Player Development League) to become more sustainable would be for the pool of players in each age group of these programs to become larger. This larger number of players in each age group would make the cost of administering developmental programs more manageable for any amateur youth soccer club. This is because the larger number of players could then share in some of the fixed the costs of coaching, fitness training, therapy, and field/gym rentals, making the cost to each individual player significantly lower. A second, potentially effective solution to this problem in Ontario would be to separate the recreational or house league stream from the competitive or player development stream. We could have clubs focused exclusively on delivering recreational / house league soccer to the large number of players who do not have the ambition to pay competitive soccer, and entirely different clubs focused exclusively on delivering competitive/player development programs, with larger player pools. This would allow the clubs who are experts in player development to focus all of their attention, time and resources into this stream, and leave the recreational / house league programs to the different clubs in that stream.
Imagine if a top professional club or academy in another country (Barcelona, or Bayern Munich, for example) had to divide its time, energy and resources into its competitive / developmental program (which is set up to help players progress to become professionals with the first team) and a recreational soccer program. No foreign club or academy in any other country would ever want to saddle themselves with this unnecessary burden. Why, then, do we expect our own amateur soccer clubs here in Ontario to be experts in both recreational soccer and player development? It is possible that by increasing the number of players in specific clubs’ developmental soccer programs, while simultaneously separating these clubs – and their programs – from other clubs’ recreational house league programs, we may be able to provide a more sustainable model for player development in this province.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.