Less emphasis on winning...

July 11, 2011

On the heels of the Canadian women’s soccer team’s disappointing performance at this year’s World Cup in Germany, I read an editorial by Jason de Vos which offered up reasons why he thought the women had not done as well as expected. Here is a link to that editorial: http://www.rugbycanada.ca/leagues/newsletter.cfm?clientID=3817&leagueID=0&page=53924 .

At the heart of Jason’s argument sits Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) and its lack of implementation at the community sport level. Jason notes that too much emphasis on winning and not enough on skill development during the youth years of competitive soccer is at the root of why Canada does not produce more competitive teams on the world stage.

This past weekend, I had a chance to observe this firsthand and to witness another example of how soccer is approached in our communities that undermines skill development. This has to do with tournaments where younger kids (U14) at a higher skill level (e.g. regional) play older kids (U15) at a lower skill level (e.g. premier). What resulted was an unsettling display of physical intimidation and disrespect on the part of the 15-year-olds that can only be characterized as sickening. You can imagine the physical disparities that exist between 15- and 14-year-old boys (some still 13 as they have not yet turned 14) and then add to the size and weight differential the extra testosterone that the 15-year-olds have coursing through their systems and you have a recipe for disaster. Not only does the coach of the 14-year-olds not play his full roster because he wants his team to put up a good show, the opposing team decides that their best strategy for winning the game is to physically knock down their opponents at every challenge for the ball and, perhaps even worse, to openly ridicule the size of their opponents throughout the game.

So let me add to Jason’s argument that the focus on winning at this age – at the expense of skill development – is hurting soccer development in this country. These “play up” kinds of tournaments are unnecessarily endangering the health and safety of players and fostering an environment that invites disrespect for opponents.  I agree with Jason that placing the emphasis on winning at this age and ignoring the other tenants of LTAD by our community sport organizations is hurting the development of the “beautiful game” in Canada. But, I also think that what is needed in this country is a more values-based approach to sport development. As it turns out, we have such an approach and it’s called True Sport.  Millions of Canadians are connecting to True Sport in this country through the True Sport Movement (www.truesport.ca). Among other things, True Sport ensures that unsafe practices and disrespectful behaviour, such as this tournament format encourages, are not condoned or permitted. What LTAD needs therefore is True Sport “inside.” Just as computers work better with Intel “inside” and many clothing garments are better with Gortex “inside,” I believe LTAD would be better with True Sport “inside.” Let me know what you think.