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Why Soccer is Screwed in Canada

Soccer is the most popular youth sport in Canada — way ahead of hockey, lacrosse, baseball, basketball and cheese rolling. However, according to the current FIFA rankings the Canadian national team is 89th, sandwiched squarely between Congo and Zambia.

So anybody with an ounce of intelligence (or common sense) is bound to ask the question “what are we doing wrong?”

My son has played soccer for years and spent the last four seasons playing youth soccer for one of our local soccer clubs. Having arrived in Canada from England I was stunned at what I found. In England, my son played footy (soccer) on the streets with his mates (friends) and played one game a week for his local school and only had a single practice. I think it was an hour of practice followed by the game and maybe 5 parents turned up. In Canada, my son practiced twice per week, for 90 minutes, played a game on Saturday and there’d be a larger crowd than at most division one games. Well, maybe 30 parents or so — even if it rained.

And he wasn’t the only kid, or just a handful, the local club had 1,000 kids playing. The other clubs in the area had around 10,000 kids playing. Boys typically played their games on Saturdays and girls played on Sundays. If you drove around at the weekends every park was filled with kids in their brightly coloured strip (uniform) running around. It was an amazing sight to see and quickly quashed my fears about raising a footy-mad son in a nation of stone chuckers (curlers).

And then through my involvement with the club, I started to see the problems. I couldn’t help it. I tried to ignore the problems, let them do it their way but everybody has their limit. When you spend your professional life identifying problems, devising solutions and implementing them you tend to see life as nothing more than a sequence of problems waiting to be fixed. And I’m a fixing type of guy.

So I sat back and watched, learned what I could, gathered the requirements for the problem and started brainstorming solutions until I figured it all out — in my opinion. I then started to push for change and up came the barricades. Long story but I’ll save your eyes. In the end, I stepped away from the problem.

However, I’ve not forgotten.

For those non-Canadians that read this, you may not know that the weather on the West Coast is actually very similar to England. It’s a lot wetter but our wet days are fewer than Englands. When it rains here, it rains, it doesn’t drizzle, it rains. And when it’s done, the sun comes out again. We don’t mope from drizzle to overcast and back to drizzle again.

So in British Columbia, we actually have the best weather for soccer and anybody trying to solve the soccer problem in Canada needs to do it here. There’s one problem though, the British Columbia Soccer Association (BCSA). They run the show across BC and they set the rules and it’s their operational model that’s wrong.

Clubs within BC report to a local District and these report to BCSA. Clubs and Districts can do their own thing, as long as they abide by the rules of BCSA but this leaves a lot of flexibility. So Clubs compete against each other for youth talent. They use coercion, financial encouragement (cheaper fees) or results to get one over their neighbouring clubs. They then use under-handed and immoral tactics to keep players. Teaching kids to play soccer is only a secondary objective, or maybe tertiary. Clubs don’t care how they teach the beautiful game or how little Johnny or Jane are enjoying themselves. They’re only in it for themselves.

And the Districts are no better. BCSA says they need to exist, so they do — but they don’t do much. Do they stop one club paying more for referees than another? No. So when all the referees jump ship to the highest-paying club there’s a problem but they don’t care. They don’t care if one club is acting under-handedly because these District representatives are from the same clubs.

This is where I see the problem is. The BCSA should actually do the administration and stop the politics and in-fighting. As a parent, I should be able to take my kids to the local club and be treated the same as the club in any of the surrounding cities. If anything, clubs should be limited to the municipal boundaries so that the local city council only has to deal with one club for scheduling fields. Why can’t the BCSA have a web-based application where we all login, register, pay the same fees, get paid the same for refereeing and we can all play by the same rules.

We don’t need hundreds of small youth soccer clubs competing with each other and we don’t need ineffective districts buffering the BCSA from the clubs. We need an organization that will actually teach the beautiful game to the kids, ensure that kids love the game and do it right.

When we get the youth side of the game sorted out, maybe then we can work on the amateur side. BC only has one professional soccer team for 4 million residents. In England, we’d have one or two Premier league teams. On the surface, we have a fantastic youth soccer programme but we’re really bad at turning that into long-term success. Somebody really needs to bring a cradle-to-grave approach to soccer in Canada.

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