Growing up in Canada, soccer was always more of a leisure activity than a sport. For those who didn't particularly enjoy baseball, it was a way to pass the summer months until the hockey season started up again. A way to keep in shape for the "real" sports season that would soon follow. In my age group it was a game that people tended to grow out of quicker than hockey, and soon jobs and other pursuits would crowd their summers. We all played, but none of us took it seriously.
A main reason is the fact that soccer, in general, never took itself seriously in Canada. Coaches were often the fathers of players with little knowledge of any sort of strategy. Their main purpose was to make sure everyone got the same amount of playing time. Practices rarely became more advanced, and when they did the general lack of skill within the group of players was evident.
To be fair, I never played at a high level. I got into the sport late and for the most part only played house league. The difference between coaching in house league hockey and soccer, however, was incredible. As a young hockey player I spent my time at the lowest level of minor hockey with coaches that included a former OHLer with an exceptional knowledge of the game.
I also played for my high school, and had several friends who I would watch play at higher levels. In all of my personal experience of soccer in Canada I never once came into contact with a coach who had a knowledge of soccer that impressed me. I think if you asked around, the feeling would be pretty mutual.
It comes down to this: before Canada can produce elite players, it has to start producing elite coaches. While this is improving, the quicker the development process improves in this country the more passionate soccer players will realize their dreams. Fewer will be forced to take their game to Europe at a young age to develop, and therefore fewer will lost to other national teams.
The ridiculous argument against this is that coaching will not change a country that is not traditionally among soccer's elite nations. In fact one that isn't considered even close. Somehow the estimated 767,000 kids who play soccer in Canada are instantly horrible players as a result of the country in which they are born. Because "Canada isn't a soccer country" and that cannot be changed.
In fact it can, and that process has already begun. John Herdman took a Women's National Team that lost every game at the 2011 Women's World Cup and led them to a Bronze Medal a year later at London 2012. While few are arguing that Canada will win the World Cup this summer, they are certainly in the conversation as the host nation.
Look at our "horrible" Men's National Team, who under the guidance of new coach Benito Floro have lost only two games since 2013. In the process they provided a legitimate challenge to one of the top soccer nations in the world, got a result against one of CONCACAF's best teams on the road and recently outplayed the 33rd ranked Iceland over two matches.
Floro will also be front and center of an important coaching event: the 2015 National Soccer Coaching Conference taking place at the end of the month at the University of Toronto. Floro will be joined by some other noticeable faces: Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney, former national team star Kara Lang as well as Toronto FC director of sports science Jim Liston.
The conference runs between January 30 and February 1. It is a major investment, as the registration fee is $250.00. However, if you are currently coaching at a high level, or would like to help see Canadian soccer move forward, this is a massive opportunity. If you are at all interested you can find more information on the conference at the event's website.
The call to arms for years has been to buy tickets for the national team, as a home team crowd will help the country move forward. While the importance of this has in no way diminished, investing time in coaching is far more fulfilling and will do far more for the sport in Canada going forward.