The Nation That Is Voting For Change - Say NO To Mediocre
Why Canada is getting its youth development wrong!
Mediocre. The #1 killer of Canadian Soccer. Here we are going to break that word down into a multiple of reasons of how mediocre crept into the Canadian soccer culture.
When you visit F.C. Porto in Portugal, S.C. Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Ajax in Amsterdam, Holland, A.C. Milan in Italy, Hagi Academy in Romania, or Barcelona in Spain you will be amazed by the level of detail put into the training sessions as well as the facilities on hand for youngsters to take full advantage of. The kids are treated as if they are professionals, educated on the game at a very early age and are provided feedback on how to improve their own development. No one is deemed lost cause during their maturation growth as the objective is to become the best you can, not promise you a future in professional football. AND if it does become a reality, you’ll be prepared mentally, physically, and technically. Notice how I bolded mentally, the decision making department of the player.
The million dollar question: Where is Canada getting it wrong when it comes to youth development?
It's the coaching. The mentality and the football is different in Canada. In places like Spain or Germany the amount of qualified coaches dwarfs the amount in Canada. A talent pool in Canada does exist but with very few strong coaches to guide them. This is a recipe for disaster.
So, what are the main issues in Canada that need to be addressed in order to solve the problem?
In Canada the selection of players we pick in trials are based on certain criteria. We are typically centered around size, weight, and speed when making our selections and we end up with great athletes but not great footballers. How many players have you heard being turned away because they weren’t tall or fast enough? In the last year, I have heard it many times, and in many cases the player had a high IQ and was passionate but turned away for a faster athlete.
Or, how many times have you seen a headless chicken or raging rhino dribbling with his head down, swooping down the wing with incredible speed but with zero ball technique, intelligence, or creativity?
At a young age it’s very easy to confuse a good talent for soccer with a good athlete. This is because at this stage an athlete can overcome a good footballer (U8 to U15), especially if they’re playing against smaller, thinner opponents. The focus is on the bigger, stronger, faster players who can dominate the match now, but no one thinks about what the player might look like 2 years later. The short term develop and short term wins vs how the development will look in 2-3 years once everyone is well past the puberty & maturation stage seems to keep prevailing.
Two key examples from my Academy: I have one player I train, recently went from Division 2 to BCSPL (BC High Performance League) due to completely being ignored for years because he wasn’t tough on the ball. That was it. The player needed some polishing in almost every area however it was just that, polishing. He was passionate, dedicated, quick, worked hard, has strong Vo2 Max, great athletic physique, not prone to injury and had a great base line of technical skill. I give him some coaching and guidance basically in every area of the game, analyzed him at his club matches, give him multiple off the ball and even off the field tips, and walked through a strength and conditioning program at the gym and he is well on his way to success. In fact, he is training in Natal, Brazil at the pro club ABC F.C. as I am writing this.
The other example came over the weekend as one of my Academy Teams played their first futsal match. I noticed immediately when the game started that the other team was taller, faster and much more physical than us. The end result was very interesting thou. I don’t follow the score line too closely but we lost with a score line of approximately 11-7. Almost all their goals were because of tactical errors we made or from pure physical force and athleticism.
However, 6 of our 7 goals were from pure technical foot skills with the ball, managing space and moving the player quickly. (Golden Rule of: 2 touch in 1 second). Now this is at the U13 age bracket and the boys are just going through the puberty / maturation stage. The re-match in 3 - 4 years once everyone is on the same “playing level physically” the result will be…. I know the end result. Trust the professional when I say the difference at U16 is quite the mile between the individuals and teams as whole.
My Academy’s bread and butter - what we believe in, what we hammer into our players and parents is: we strive to develop the ability to read the game with their head, have a strong tactical position to where-ever the ball is, their teammates & opponents are. Establish a strong technical relationship with the ball and the ability to move it quickly. As they move the ball, they understand creating and managing space is crucial to having success throughout the game. They think intelligently as they play, they are constantly analyzing and stating, “when or IF the ball comes to me, what are my options? What could I do? Who is open? How can I create something so we can develop a play or score a goal? Our Academy's curriculum is DIRECTLY designed to get these results in the athlete's brain and feet. Remember: the athlete's brain and decisions directly fire the legs to physically execute. It is never the other way.
Canadians need to understand that this changes every second and they need to re-think these questions every moment. Offensively and defensively. This is why they should be more mentally exhausted then physically after a game. Perhaps this alone is my most important message as an Academy Director and Coach.
The athletes who are bigger, stronger and faster that are dominating soccer matches throughout their youth level that do not receive any professional coaching or guidance and only learn to play one way, and rely on their physical attributes will have major problems from ages U16 and older. When the physical side evens itself out and they don’t have that advantage, they will not stand out anymore, in fact they will suffer.
Imagine we had qualified coaches in Canada who took athletic players and taught them a high standard of ball technique, game intelligence, how to look for creative solutions, how to keep possession, how to work as a team tactically! Canada will than start to develop very good youth players who potentially can play in strong professional teams/leagues around the world. The fact we have the CPL (Canadian Premier League) forming in 2019 is a great start to young players wanting a career in the game.
Across the world the methodologies are from the start: to develop the youngster teams right up to the senior squad, focusing on the technical side FUSED with the idea of how to play the game intelligently. It isn’t a static formation but more fluid one which changes depending on the game’s attacking or defending circumstances. In the end, it’s all about being intelligent with and without the ball, controlling the possession & rhythm of the game, not wasting energy and instead making your opponent work hard for the ball in order to re-gain possession. If you learn all these qualities, play attractive soccer, in the long run: the player will understand the game much better, enjoy the game more deeply, and learn far more. This is not to say that it will be easy, this takes a lot of time in order to accomplish especially if you have picked up bad habits from poor coaches in the past.
Parents always need to remind themselves of one simple question! Why does my son or daughter play the sport? The answer is clear and simple, because they find it enjoyable and fun. The coaches in Canada have a major responsibility to have in-depth sessions that need to remain fun and exciting. Children are there to learn, to develop their decision making mixed with technical skills, but most importantly, to enjoy playing the game. It is very simple to monitor this, if the players are smiling, laughing and eager to return to training than the coach I’m sure is doing their job.
This leads into the coach’s job… Parents are key to their child’s development but they need to remember to be parents first, not soccer experts. We all want the best for the kids but believe it or not, the professional coach knows more than you do. Even if your son is playing in defense when he’s a strong attack type player who can score goals, trust their judgement or reasoning and don’t create conflict or tell your child that the coach has it wrong. It’s crucial the parent understands the end goal and important learning moments in every coaching decision.
To conclude this message, with YOUTH you can’t expect results in the short term and you maybe need to wait two to five years or more to see them. Strong decision making and skill takes years to properly develop. Being patience & supportive is the great parental asset to have. Period.
Is private Academy training typical better than your local club association training?
There are a numerous reasons why a private academy can provide better training than your local non-profit soccer club. Many reasons are small details that build and what I call “limitations” that damper the player’s mentality and life experience with the game, while others are quite significant and impact the environment immediately.
Starting with the significant differences, the coaches at private academies are in fact coaches. They are professionally trained youth coaches and have a true passion for developing youth. They usually have a significant playing background and in-additional hold coaching licenses from hopefully a respectful high ranked FIFA country. Many academy coaches also have sports science university education on top of their coaching licenses and usually on their own time are always continuing their education because they are always wanting to learn and strive to get better. At Premier, the boys are provided decision based technical sessions that the club does not implement or just completely neglects. In my opinion, training should minimally be 3 sessions per week if the athlete wants to have any chance at striving to be a talented, well rounded soccer player.
In fact, you could argue if you change just these two elements in Canadian youth soccer and keep all the rest the same, that youth soccer in Canada over the next ten years will spike in the overall quality that its producing.
The limitations that are diluting the youth game in Canada are the following:
1. Training only one hour per session.
2. Training x1-2 per week.
3. Training 24 / 7 on artificial grass (turf).
4. Training on a quarter of the field. (The player not having space to appropriately manage)
5. Rep-minded players training with recreational-minded players.
6. Not having a variety of training equipment at the coach’s exposal.
7. Not using modern proven curriculum or technology. Examples: Visual Awareness System, Metrifit Software, Visual Report Cards, Written Short and Long Term Goal Setting, and Video Analysis.
8. Not having the appropriate coaching staff on-board.
9. Player’s not having direction in what their opportunities are after grade 12 or what the path is to Professional or post-secondary options.
I know the local association that I helped a few years ago hit 8 of 9 of the above points. At the end of the day you need to ask yourself: "If you want to give your son / daughter an actual soccer experience and give him / her the opportunity to learn the game for how it should be played. Or… let volunteer coaches who have limited knowledge developing your child. Would you allow a non-certified teacher instruct the ABC's in a English grammar lesson?
Iceland changed this over 10 years ago and look at their most recent result at the 2016 Euro and 2018 World Cup. If we don't change this, Canada will always be mediocre.
University sport teams have specific programs designed to benefit the athlete throughout the year. The concept comes from just plain common sense. An athlete needs specific type of training depending on where they are at within their 12 month season. Off season has never meant you’re “OFF” and sitting on a couch. It simply means your training sessions will be designed to accomplish DIFFERENT objectives. Usually in this situation it’s injury prevention, strength building, core & stability, and maintenance of ball technique. Words like frequency, volume, periodization, and change of environment will be common used words. By creating such a program for an athlete that focuses on just one sport, they can achieve the multi-sport approach that is commonly suggested these days in North America. I am confident to say that the top pro soccer players didn’t play soccer, basketball, handball, and track all in 12 months. However, they did have conditioning, futsal, outdoor training, sand training, swimming, and just ordinary street soccer.
That being said, why doesn’t our local soccer programs have this architecture? If you want to build a well-rounded soccer player, you need to focus on all aspects of their game. In fact, take soccer out of the equation and this concept is for all sports. Canadian hockey has implemented these concepts for decades. The catch is, you need to know what they need to play the sport, and WHEN they need it. If you’re really smart, you will use specific environments to accomplish this goal. To give you a hint, perhaps when the weather gets rainy and cold, it might be a good time to change the environment. We will talk about this a little later.
Why is this approach important? Transitioning from a high volume, high intensity pre-season to the regular season, and then into an off season is not only mentally draining but physically draining. Certain muscles have potentially been over-worked, the body might be still recovering from season injures, and the mind is burnt from the same thing over and over within a 6 - 8 month season campaign. As a professional technical coach, and Academy owner with a sports science background I take this all into consideration of how to develop my players.
At Premiere Soccer Academy our players have been specifically put in futsal programs, conditioning programs through twist conditioning and a custom-built weight training program that is designed for their sport, age, and gender. And no, I didn’t design the weight training program, instead I got my old Kinesiology University Professor to take the reigns on that one. In my opinion, it would be irresponsible when I have the best of the best just down the street or a phone call away to design what is required for my athletes.
Why is Premiere’s Program just plain better, compared to what I currently see out there? For one, we do everything the player needs but at a specific time of the year that not only benefits the player but the parent. When it’s cold and constantly wet, we are indoors doing futsal training and we join the YPFL futsal league. We don’t put them in lines in the freezing cold, we instruct indoors in a safe environment where the curriculum is driven from Brazil, Ajax in Holland and FC Barca (La Masia Youth) in Spain and will touch on this in my next blog.
Two, if the curriculum needs to be instructed by another professional than we make sure we contract that professional out. Luckily for us, we know futsal very well and hire other coaches who are futsal teachers. But our weight training program is designed by a University Professor, our conditioning program is implemented through Twist Conditioning because they are the experts in that field. Our goalies are coached by a goalie coach, you get the idea. We do things properly and professionally.
At the end of the day, as a professional, I sleep well at night knowing my players are in proper, professional environments, at the correct time of year, working on specific player objectives dependant on if it’s off-season, pre-season, or season. They are instructed by the proper coach for the topic that’s being addressed. We change our environment, not only to re-fresh their mind and let them enjoy a new environment & experience but to get out of the constant rain and cold. Premiere Academy organizes and implements exactly this.
Reflection from the past week: October 2017
The two clubs that are amongst the top at producing the most youth players turning professional have something in common. Ajax and FC Barcalona had Johan Cruyff within their system as a player and presenter of a new idea of how to play football.
North America has never produced a world class player even though soccer is the most played sport amongst youth, why is that? Why is it that Canada has only qualified once for the World Cup and USA missed the qualifications this year? Why are we putting kids in lines and drills at practice, and not letting them play functional games or applications? Why are coaches or the authority figures not waking up to the fact there is a better way but other organizations have the formula and had it for awhile. It seems to me that the blind are leading the blind.
The most common push back is that, it works in that country, but it would never work here in North America. This is the biggest mistake and an irrational argument! Guess what, youth are youth around the world, kids all learn the same. A german kid doesn't learn differently than a Canadian kid. They are both kids, and they are both humans. Yes, some culture differences play a smaller factor but the bigger picture remains the same. I challenge coaches in Canada that there is a better way and that Premiere Academy has been doing it for awhile now and will continue to strive to get even better through our journey of learning as facilitators, teachers, coaches and adults who have a passion for the game that approach the game a certain way.
Our development plan has stemmed from: cognition, competence, and character while using specific exercises and systems of play that stimulate the brain on how to take in the variables and how to solve the problem.
I am excited to return to my group of boys and girls and fine tune our system and get going on educating our youth not only on the game principles but their character. Barca has core values that you see on the field which has lead to their success over the years. Without character attributes you will ever succeed on the field or in life.
This is my position as founder of Premiere Soccer Academy and I challenge you to self reflect that there is a better way and that it's not a coincidence that Canada has never produced a star player, only entered the world cup tournament once but continues to deny curriculum and obvious principles that have lead other nations and professional clubs to abundance of success.
Defintion of insanity is when you do something over and over again the same way but expect a different result!
A great example is North American soccer. This week has been self reflection of myself as a coach but also taking a stand to the Canadian coaches & the authority figures of the Canadian system. A country that has a massive amount of talent and resources but continues to not realize their errors and are either arrogant or ignorant. I'd argue both.
I want to change Canadian soccer but will start with my own Academy and the amazing boys/girls that are within it. This will pave the way for the rest of the nation over time.
The game of football has the same language around the world. JOGA BONITO and I am here with literally a coach from every part of the world, we are battling the same problems, but have the same common goal and love for the best sport in the world. Truly the best experience as a coach I have ever had.