Monday, June 24, 2013

"I am a soccer player". All the ID a youth player needs.

During our FIFA Grassroots course, two grade 5 classes came from local schools on the Friday to play in 4 rotating small-sided-games.  There was one child who had some solid skills.  I ask him if he played soccer and he said "yes".  I asked which club and he said "No club, I play at school". I am guessing he meant at recess, lunch, before and after school, gym, etc.

Is he still a soccer player?   He sure is.  He is as much a soccer player as Lionel Messi and Dwayne DeRosario.

Moving forward, what is written here applies to EVERY sport.  I hope you agree.

This weekend I spent my time:
  • Delivering my nephew's U11 session.
  • Walking the fields (with my dog) watching the U8 boys house league players who come to our Thursday sessions.
  • Delivering my son's U18 session.
  • Watching my son's U14 friendly.
  • Personally delivering a very positive social media comment to our U12 girls team. (thanks @colinscameron)
  • Watching a U10 girls session (and stepping in briefly).
At all of kids at all of these stops were soccer players.  Boys, girls, different leagues, ages 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Utopia: Mass particpation and no cuts before U12. Grassroots sports.

grassroots development
I started writing this article in April 2013.  I kept rewording and reworking it so I didn't sound like a man gone mad.  I even had some honest friends read it over and they liked it, but I was still unsure to hit the "publish " button.

This past week (June 12-15) I attended the FIFA Grassroots course and confirmed that I wasn't crazy after all.

So here it is (as written on April 24, 2013).  I haven't touched it since then other than to add 2 pictures and the notes at the beginning and end.


Don't call the psych hospital.  I've put a lot of time into formulating my opinion of how sports should/could be handled from U12 and younger.  And not having a team this season gives me more time to observe and refine my thoughts.
"Countless kids playing a lot of games."
I haven't lost my mind in a "Jerry Maguire" sort of way.  Ontario's adoption of LTPD, personal research, recent personal and educational experiences and good old fashioned "listening" moves me in this direction.
The grassroots festival held at the FIFA Grassroots
festival June 15, 2013

On first glance you might think I've lost my desire to compete and win.  This is not about "not winning".  This is ALL ABOUT WINNING.  But winning when it counts.  And the more kids you take on the ride (of all levels), the more that will gain confidence, the more will be able to compete for higher spots at U13 or keep playing and stay active.

It's also about giving as many kids the environment to develop their agility, balance and control and the ability to adopt another sport of their choosing later in life.  Even if they are not "good" at the sport they choose,  the system needs to be a champion for these kids.

Here goes.  :)

grassroots developmentSports for U12 and below, all sports.
  • Lower to no cost.  Get in as many kids as possible.
  • No tryouts or cuts.
  • General athletics/activities for ALL children U3/U4/U5.
  • For all young children in Canada, physical literacy on land/water/ice/air (running, swimming, skating, jumping)
  • Proper and appropriate training and playing environments for players in the sports of their choice U6-U12.
  • Full manuals for ALL coaches, written by the best coaches in co-operation with educators, at every age providing full season, age appropriate program plans.
  • For children who play basketball or soccer, a BALL to take home.  :)
  • Money or skill level never a barrier for entering the sport of their choice at the grassroots ages.
  • All sports are all inclusive.
  • In-person exposure to major or minor league professional games.
  • Additional exposure for players who show interest, but all participate at set minimum levels.
  • Equipment for tether-ball, small sided "street" soccer, lower basketball nets, "foot hockey" nets, game markings all over the play ground and outside of gym walls at ALL elementary schools.
  • Daily, full period of phys-ed up to Grade 6 (minimum).
  • Schools must be an active part of the community sports system.
The social goals are:
  • Financially and organizationally healthier clubs
  • Healthier kids with more confidence to make friends
  • Children learning to embrace cultural diversity at younger ages
  • More facilities and better playgrounds
  • Have as many kids as active as possible, confidently heading into puberty and beyond
  • More coaches coming out of the volunteer parent groups
  • More officials
  • More volunteers
  • Calmer, more productive environment for development
  • Better attendance at schools.
  • Potentially better grades in school through physically stimulated bodies.  Read here and the bazillion other reports that back this claim.
The competitive goals are:
  • Better and more confident athletes through constant exposure to various movements and sequences.
  • Smarter athletes exposed to various activities and problem solving through self/guided-discovery
  • Maximizing technical development through Golden Age of Learning (U8-U12)
  • Have as many trained players as possible heading into U13 sports, physically and mentally ready to compete for spots on competitive teams or simply wanting to keep playing. (How many kids were at the last U13 tryouts you attended?  What if there were double that amount? Triple?)
  • We don't tell a young kid in development that they aren't good enough.  We keep them involved and keep alive the chance of something clicking at some point.  At the very least they'll want to keep playing the sport into adulthood.
  • Keep late bloomers in the loop so they don't quit at U9/U10 for being too small, increasing retention for your sport/club and talent pool at 13.
  • Better, more confident coaches coming through GrassRoots stages.
Why today's setup is bad for development
  • Losing kids too early to low confidence.
  • Not enough exposure to athletic movements and problem solving.  On average, young Canadians not active enough.
  • Late bloomers being relegated too early to non-participation at high levels.
  • Potentially the wrong kids are playing at the U13 high levels because the wrong kids were picked at U8.
  • Fewer kids competing for Elite spots at older ages.
  • Players are technically proficient but not overall good/smart athletes.
  • Possible standouts are excluded because of money issues earlier in life.
Why today's setup is bad for clubs/business
  • Fewer kids playing past U13 at clubs = less revenue.
  • Fewer families (= Voters) involved means less pressure on local government to maintain/build facilities.
  • Fewer children playing now means fewer adults playing in the future.
At the very least we should/could/would end up with healthier, more energetic kids who, on average, might have higher grades. Activities must include situations where even the least athletic kids can achieve some level of success in the use of their bodies.
"Even if they are not "good" at the sport they choose,  the system needs to be a champion for these kids."
Am I looking for more coaching and structure?  No, this idea would have much less control than we have today.  We need some good, old fashioned "play time" and problem solving.  More street hockey, playground baseball and small sided soccer games.  Every physical literacy research paper backs this up.  Putting the environment in front of them and giving them the time to play is the key.


Think about it.  There will be a cost, but how much?  How much does it cost to let kids play?  Some schools do need to update their playgrounds for games.  School is where they have no xBox or online games.  We use phys-ed for physical literacy and exposure to games, and recess for free play time.  Sports clubs get them into the habit of structured teams and planned sports outside of school hours.  Parents start to build better networks in less stressful environments.
"Schools must be an active part of the
community sports system"
Sometimes when you talk to people about this you look at you like you've lost your mind.  Maybe I have.  But I am not alone.  If you read various reports on player development, where good players came from and physical development of children, they all point in this general direction.

I'm not crazy.  Well, not 100%.  This thinking has been brewing in me for years. It started during my first coaching course (1988) when our instructor said if it was up to him we would have no travel soccer until U12.  I've watched kids play pickup soccer in Mexico, Switzerland, Holland and Italy, pickup basketball all over and God only knows how many street and frozen pond hockey games.  It picked up speed when my son went to Ridley College for Grade 5 and 6 back in 2005-2006.  All students played something every semester.  If you were not able to stick with a team, you played intramural sports at a level that was suitable for you.  It may have been intense, it may have been casual.  But it was physical, daily and mandatory.  EVERYBODY.  EVERYDAY.  Nobody died as a result.

We need more broken fence boards, more broken windows, more balls ending up on school roofs, more kids stinking from sweating at lunch time, more holes in the knees of their jeans, less adults interfering in their play time, more kids being yelled at because they played too late past sundown ...

The Ontario Soccer Association has seen the importance in this and hired a full time person to specifically lead Grassroots soccer, Manager of Grassroots Development.

Countless kids playing a lot of games.  Some kids will scrape a knee or receive an accidental black eye.  They'll be fine.  And they'll be good.

P.S.  Added June 18, 2013.  During our FIFA Grassroots course we ran 2 mini festival type of sets for kids during their school day.  On Saturday we ran a festival for 280 children on one field (see picture below).  Very little coaching.  Activities and small sided games.  The kids loved it, the parents were ecstatic and it was a lot of fun.  280 kids with a ball on their foot is never a bad thing.

Yours truly at the FIFA Grassroots course
P.P.S Added August 2013. The OSA released a Grassroots Curriculum that can be downloaded and shared.  It's a very good document.

Friday, June 21, 2013

U8 Boys grassroots soccer - 44 house league players out for more soccer

Every year, the Welland Soccer Club hosts what they call the "Wizard Academy".  Traditionally, it was for players in U8 starting to be identified for U9 travel.  I was never participated in this program until this year.

A change to the philosophy this year is that it's open to U7/U8 house league players and there will be no cuts.  Upon hearing that, I decided to participate.  (great decision, Rob!)

A lot of these kids have never had a real "training session" of any kind.  Learning to listen, adhere to safety rules and get organized are probably more important than the soccer itself for the first couple of sessions.

My main goal of the session was diagnostic; to get an idea of what we were working with.  I liked what I saw and enjoyed the group.  I had a few of them in last year's WSC summer camp.

I have some simple rules:
  • Have fun or go home :)
  • When I am speaking, I don't want to hear anybody else and I want to see your eyes..
  • We do not kick balls into crowds.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Welland U18 Boys. Introduction to adult soccer; learning the hard way.

This past weekend we were in Erie, PA for a tournament with our 1995 boys.  The age classification was U18/U19, so there were many players born in 1993 already playing college/university soccer on the field.

I help with this team at training on occasion, but they have a head coach and long time assistant.  My middle son plays here.

Our boys are in Grade 12 and will be off to school in the fall.   Some are interested in trying out for their new schools while others want to play in competitive men's leagues.  The jump in speed, technical demands and physical play are noticeable and, for some, extremely intimidating.

This weekend our team was thrown into the firepit, covered in oil and cooked until well-done.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Soccer referees are people too.

Last night something happened that I am appreciating more as time passes.

We were at my son's game out of town.  It was a decent back and forth affair and my son's team was down 2-0 early in the second half, but pressing.

In this particular moment, a ball was played into the midfield to our centre midfield player.  His options ahead were ready and we had their team outnumbered.  He had room to run and press forward.

The referee found himself in the middle of the traffic and collided with our player before he got to the ball.   The ball rolled all by its lonesome, looking for somebody to take ownership of it.  Their player took it, had room to run, one pass and it