Last week, I gave a presentation about periodization for youth soccer to the West Windsor Plainsboro Soccer Association (WWPSA for short) located in Princeton, New Jersey. This experience was unique for me because I was in the United States on the evening of Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, when Donald Trump became the 45th U.S. President.
While I certainly do not intend to discuss politics in this article, there was something about the experience of being in a foreign country at the exact moment when a controversial figure was elected President, which left a lasting impression in my mind. And that something was the realisation that we Canadians are not very different from our American neighbours, both with regards to our politics, as well as our soccer.
Again, this article is not about politics, but it is worth noting that – based on the conversations with Americans I had following the election last week – almost all of them said they did not really care much for either of the presidential candidates, nor about identifying themselves as “democrat” or “republican”, but rather that they were concerned only with things that affect the long term health, welfare, and security of themselves, their families, and their country. In this regard, it seems to me that Americans and Canadians are, for the most part, very similar.
Back to soccer now. After working directly with soccer coaches and administrators from the WWPSA, and speaking to some other coaches and players in the area, I came away with the sense that Americans and Canadians also share some similarities in the sport – specifically, with regards to coaching and coach education – and that these similarities have resulted in similar challenges in the development of the game and the success of each country at the international level.
The primary similarity between American and Canadian soccer which has ultimately led to coaching challenges is that in both countries, the sport has huge numbers of participants, but lags behind several other sports in terms of popularity and history.
The Canadian Soccer Association’s website http://www.canadasoccer.com states that Canada has over 850,000 registered soccer players (almost 3% of its total population), and that an amazing 44% of children in the country participate in the sport. This makes soccer the largest participation sport in the country.
In the United States, http://www.wikipedia.org states that there are over 13 million registered soccer players (over 4% of their total population), making soccer the third-largest participation sport there, behind only basketball and baseball/softball.
In Canada, hockey is clearly our most popular sport, and based on the amount of media attention devoted to different sports; both baseball and basketball are more popular than soccer. In the United States, baseball, football, basketball and in many cases hockey could all be considered more popular than soccer based on the media attention they receive.
A common coaching problem that has emerged in both the United States and Canada as a result of the large numbers of participants in youth soccer is the lack of qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced coaches available to work with all of these players.
I have been through the coach licensing programs in both Canada (up to and including the CSA National “B” License) and the United States (up to an including the USSF National “A” License) and, while they are both certainly very challenging courses, they require significantly less time to complete as do similar coach licensing programs in other countries. In Uruguay, for example, elite level youth coaches must complete a 2-year coach licensing program comprising 1400 hours of in-class and on-field instruction, plus multiple exams; I wrote a previous blog article about this topic which can be viewed here: https://soccerfitnessgols.com/2016/09/26/3-things-canadians-can-learn-from-uruguayan-youth-soccer/.
Most countries that have been more successful in developing talent, as well as in winning games and tournaments at the international levels, have been able to ensure that the more talented youth players they have – the “best” players – are placed in programs where they get coaching and training from the most knowledgeable and experienced coaches – the “best” coaches. This concept is known as “best with best”, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that putting the best players with the best coaches will lead to optimal player development, which in turn will lead to optimal performance at the senior international level.
While it is certainly possible for America and/or Canada to develop a “best with best” model, the systems present in both countries at the moment – in which huge numbers of players are participating without enough knowledgeable and experienced coaches – may not be sufficient to develop it. Some potential solutions to this shared American/Canadian soccer problem might be:
- Decrease and/or set limits on the total number of “competitive” players registered in the country, provinces, and states:
This would require the great majority of registered in youth soccer players to compete in “recreational” programs rather than in “competitive” programs. If recreational players want to participate in a competitive program, they should be given fair and equal opportunities to try-out, but the standards by which players are selected must be stricter as the total number of “competitive” payers accepted into the programs would be significantly lower. This could also help to streamline the process of identifying who the “best” players are in specific age and gender categories for the higher level programs (state/province, and National Teams).
- Hold more frequent coach licensing courses and make requirements stricter for coaches who wish to work with these “competitive” players:
If the ultimate goal of “best with best” is to provide good players with access to better coaching, then the number of “better” coaches needs to increase. This can only be done if the North American state/provincial and national organisations hold their licensing courses more frequently so that more coaches can attend them and reach higher levels of coach education. Furthermore, if the total number of “competitive” players in a certain region or city is lower, then the licensing requirements for coaches working with those players can be made stricter, thus demanding a higher standard of coaches to work with the better players.
- Raise the standards of state/provincial, and national coach licensing courses:
As mentioned previously, it I not uncommon for coaches working with top level players in other countries to be required to spend several years (and more than 1000 hours) on coach education and licensing courses in order to meet the licensing requirements. Although the American and Canadian coach licensing courses are challenging, well organised and very educational, it is possible that increasing the length of the courses and adding more content – including more content around sports science related topics such as periodization, energy system training, and sports psychology, for example – could help to raise the overall standard of the courses and of the coaches who participate in them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.