2012 is the Year of Soccer in Canada

Richard Starnes wrote a terrific article about Soccer in Canada in the Ottawa Citizen on March 10th. Boris Bajagic, Club Head Coach for Nepean Hotspurs, sent an email to Richard Starnes in response to the article.

Original Ottawa Citizen Article: It took a century, but 2012 is the Year of Soccer in Canada.

On Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 11:20 AM, Boris Bajagic wrote:

Dear Mr. Starnes:

Thank you for your support for our sport in your column of Saturday, March 10, and congratulations on addressing some of the events taking place around the “beautiful game” in Canada. However, in your excellent article you forgot to mention the most important ongoing project in the Canadian soccer community – implementation of the Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) model by its major stakeholders – the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), Ontario Soccer Association (OSA), Eastern Ontario District Soccer Association (EODSA) and local Clubs.

This is, in fact, the single most important project in the history of Canadian soccer, on which the future of the game in this country will depend. It is therefore our duty to draw your attention to it and bring you up to date on the efforts by everyone involved in soccer in Canada on this important topic. Without proper implementation of the LTPD model, the future of soccer in Canada will indeed be very bleak.

A few excerpts from the core outline of the LTPD program will help you better understand the concept:

LTPD starts with the U4 Active Start category and carries through to the adult Soccer for Life stage. We want everyone who comes to our great sport to love the experience and stay and play—for life, regardless of individual talent level.

LTPD emphasizes the need for an even better soccer experience for all young players, not only elite players. This approach to player development is so common in other parts of the (successful!) soccer-playing world that they have no specific terminology for the approach – it’s just the way things are done. The focus in other countries is simply on developing players, not winning games, at the early youth levels.

LTPD is not a revolutionary approach. It is simply moving us closer to world standards and meeting established “best practices” when it comes to training programs and player and coach development. The science and research behind the value of LTPD is clear, and we can provide you with any examples and documentation you need to explain this approach to the public.

Our Clubs are already doing excellent work in adopting LTPD principles, work that will make the delivery of the soccer experience for coaches and players even better, from U4 right through to adult soccer.

LTPD is not only better for recreational players who want to simply be active, stay fit and enjoy the soccer experience, but also for “elite” players who want a future in the sport. Better training, a focus on individual skills development, less focus on winning and more opportunities to be identified at the local and regional level for higher levels of competition will make this program a success.

Further readings of LTPD are available on the CSA web siteOSA web site, EODSA web site and individual Clubs’ Web sites.

Based on current plans, LTPD will be phased in starting in 2013 in Ontario, with a broader “roll-out” expected over the next 6 to 8 years. Some Clubs and Districts, like our own Eastern Ontario District Soccer Association, have already begun to move in this direction at the youngest ages, with outstanding results and very positive feedback from parents.

Why is the LTPD approach necessary? Our current player pathway is so broken, confusing and fragmented that we can no longer avoid the “elephant in the room” – that the current system is neither working in producing top-level players nor encouraging players to take up the sport for life. We have to develop a pathway that not only makes sense, but is also in the true best interests of young players.

One of the biggest challenges we will address is re-shaping the current competitive structure. The CSA and OSA will be recommending to Clubs a league structure that emphasizes skills development at the youngest ages (U4 to U12), with a more appropriate practice-to-game ratio, less emphasis on “winning games”, and a much greater emphasis on enhancing the skill development of all players.

The proposed league and competition structure will not focus on individual team promotion and relegation, but rather on player development with a Club focus. Over the next two years the OSA will introduce a new competitive structure based on specific standards.

Detailed criteria are still being finalized but, in short, it would require individual Clubs to demonstrate certain minimum standards (registration, staffing, program delivery, number of certified coaches, ability to implement true LTPD principles, etc.) to qualify to enter teams at certain levels of competition.

The new model will also propose a new, high-performance league for talented male and female players, under the governance of the OSA. The league will use the proposed Club standards, rather than the current promotion and relegation system, to ensure that the finest training and player development system possible is available in every corner of the province.

Ottawa-area Clubs are already working to create broader awareness of LTPD, and together with Clubs across the province to help educate soccer and public leaders on moving forward together in a healthy and cooperative fashion. We look forward to working with you in developing an exciting future for soccer within Canada, based on the LTPD concept.

Boris Bajagic, CSA “A” Licensed Coach
Member of OSA Technical Advisory Council
Acting Chair of the Club Head Coaches & Technical Directors Forum of Eastern Ontario
Ontario Soccer Association Learning Facilitator
Club Head Coach, Nepean Hotspurs Soccer Club

From: Richard Starnes
Sent: March-13-12 11:59 AM
To: Boris Bajagic
Subject: Re: LTPD - Long Term Player development concept

Hi Boris,

Thanks for this. As you will understand the LTPD project cannot be explained in a few paragraphs and since I consider it a vitally important new strategy - as you do - I decided to save it for its own column.

The information you have provided is excellent and you can expect a call from me to tap your expertise when I write that column. I have kept myself up to date on the LTPD initiative, have spoken to a number of people already and intend talking with others before long.

This is an initiative that many parents and players will find hard to understand. I intend putting their fears about competitiveness and winning trophies etc to rest. Everyone has to understand how important it is to the development of the game in this country. They have to realize that this is not a plan unique to Canada. It is tried and tested in many of the world's leading football countries.

And, of course, there are other observations to be made.

Thanks for taking the time to provide this and rest assured I am fully cognisant with its exciting importance.