Earlier in September, another Canadian journey to the world's biggest sporting event, the men's soccer World Cup, came to an end. Canada failed to progress to the final qualifying round trailing behind Mexico and Honduras. Being placed in an embarrassing 104th position in FIFA's national teams' ranking, Canada needs to analyse the reasons for failure. This is the second episode of a series based on a year-long investigation trying to answer one question: Why is Canada doing so bad at men's soccer?
Episode 2: Refusing to Babysit and Other Coaching Problems
Despite the high participation and viewership numbers we discussed last episode, Canada is yet to produce a national men’s team that can confidently compete in the North American/Caribbean region.
Just looking at the national team’s line-up can raise many questions, the main one being: Why can’t we produce better players?
Pay to Play
Paul Stalteri, the ex-Canadian national team captain and the current coach of the Under-17 national men's team, thinks that the real problem is not in the talent area, but rather in providing a competitive atmosphere for players growing up.
"One of the biggest challenges that lies for Canadian football is that at a certain age what can we offer players and where can these players play? That is a big turning factor in Canada. What are the best ways for players at a certain age to continue getting games at the highest level? That can remain a challenge."
One of the reasons for the lack of competition at younger ages is the pay-per-play model.
While playing for youth soccer clubs generally doesn't cost money in Europe, it can cost up to $2,400 annually for a 14-year-old Canadian boy to play a season of organized soccer. So as European soccer academies select the kids for their programs based on performance, Canadian academies permit paying customers. This could hinder the development of talented kids because they could be put in lower quality teams.
The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) recognized the problem and implemented the EXCEL soccer program.
EXCEL is a new stream set up by the CSA to identify the most promising young talents. The provincial clubs will act as scouts, as they promote certain talented athletes (aged 8-11) at their clubs to join regional Identification camps that are run by the CSA. By the time they reach the Under-13 level, many of these youngsters are promoted to one of the five youth soccer academies attached to Canada's five professional teams —Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC, Montréal Impact, FC Edmonton, or Ottawa Fury FC— where they will play in a national league of their own.
Even though the EXCEL program is one creative solution for developing kids at soccer, it is limited to kids who have been scouted early. Many players develop after the age of 11, or immigrate to Canada after the age of 11.
Limited Coaches and Negative Attitude
When it comes to coaching, the problem is more complicated, especially when volunteers with no real coaching background train kids.
"One of the problems is our coaching education model here," said Colin Elmes, president of TSS, a youth development soccer academy in Richmond, B.C.
Elmes said Canada has only about 50 to 60 coaches with an ‘A' license, the highest national soccer coaching certificate.
After acquiring his national ‘B' licence in 2006, Elmes was surprised that there was no follow up from the CSA.
"There's very little accountability here. You show up, you do your course, you get your certificate, and you move on."
Elmes suggests that one of the problems is that these ‘A' licensed coaches do not spend time on the younger kids who need the most development.
"I coach five-year-olds once a week. Most of these guys [‘A' licensed coaches] would not go anywhere near that. They wouldn't touch it. They see it as babysitting. The reality is where we need the most help, which is the golden age of learning... sort of eight to 12. A lot of our top coaches can't be bothered," said Elmes.
According to him, these coaches then complain about having no properly developed players. "They [the coaches] go, ‘Oh, these guys can't play.' Well, that's because nobody of sophistication would spend enough time with them when they're a little bit younger," adds Elmes.
This becomes increasingly important, as the pressure of producing players at younger age has increased in the past 10 years
Stalteri says things were different back in his earlier days, when he played with Werder Bremen, the German national champion back then.
"I remember back when I made my debut for [Werder] Bremen at 22 years old, I was still considered a young player at the time, so if you compare to the model now ... if you haven't played at 22, the chances of you making it are almost nothing," said Stalteri.