Our Approach and LTPD

Our philosophy is aligned with LTPD, Ontario Soccer's Long Term Player Development program. It has been for years, before LTPD was being implemented.

LTPD is a new initiative which focuses on player development instead of winning. The new directions apply to all OSA soccer leagues in Ontario and are very welcome for the simple reasons that if coaches did not have to worry about standings they could really focus on skills development. At the younger ages our focus should not be on winning, or on the elite players for that matter, but on making all kids learn and like the game, and be fit - for life.

There is nothing wrong with winning, and LTPD is not against winning. However, focusing on winning at the younger ages is detrimental to the development of skills. Coaches know that it is relatively easily to win a match in ways that are not helpful for kids development. Such ways limit the players and become huge barriers later on in life.  We are well-aware that children would improve much faster and would remain in the sport in much bigger numbers if there were no standings, no silly team promotion and demotion.

In an Oct 26 letter, Alex Chiet, OSA's Chief technical officer, mentioned that the Technical Advisory Council will be recommending a league structure that will emphasize skills development at the youngest ages (U4 to U12) with a more appropriate practice-to-game ratio  and less emphasis on “winning games”, and much more on enhancing skill development of all players. This is long overdue. Practices is exactly what we focus on.

In this context, winning-losing stats are irrelevant. Children have fun and are happy when they know they played hard and well, even if they lose. They develop a wonderful love for the game, and of physical activity, hopefully for life.

We see many other coaches telling their kids that they should play "aggressively to win". This is quite negative. Yes, players should be taught to be the first to the ball and win it, but by being faster and smarter and using skills and tactics to beat their opponents. Tactics are needed to play as a team in 11v11 situations in a full soccer field, They learn to play as a team (7v7 involves less tactics in mini fields, but is appropriately used for younger children).

Soccer is also not about bumping or pushing your opponent out of the play. This sort of behavior will only get the kids so far. It works while some of the kids are bigger and stronger, but eventually skills will prevail, and all those "aggressive" players are left behind.

Our approach is to practice and play as much as possible. We play and maintain optional practices outdoors until the ground is frozen. We use every opportunity we get from the weather to play outdoors. We also open weekly games to parents and siblings, and by mixing children of different skills levels the players learn from watching and playing with others. This works wonders. We schedule scrimmages with whomever we can, boys or girls, older and younger. We play and practice to have fun. The more the kids play, the better they will become.

We also tell them about fair play and sportsmanship, never to swear or argue with a referee, never to dive and fake, and to always respect opponents and spectators. It is unfortunately not what we see at all out there because they need to "win", and those kids will be very limited when they get older.

It is not about winning at all costs. It is about the kids learning skills and having fun. The benefits of physical activity are more than obvious and well documented.

As for moving to the professional spheres, and success at the Concafaf, Olympics, or World Cup level, the kids with most talent and skills and commitment will naturally move to the advanced or professional streams as they get older, armed with an arsenal of new soccer weaponry and a great attitude. These will be much better and stronger players when it counts, and with hopefully a well defined path to get there. The others, the not so talented or committed ones, or the ones with other interests in life, will still play for fun for the rest of their lives, and be fit and healthy.

The LTPD is also closely aligned with FIFA's Grassroots objectives, whose main objective in to bring as many people as possible into the game, because football is "a school of life,” as well as Grassroots festivals. The idea with the festivals is to provide children with a positive experience and to give them all the same opportunity to play, without an overall winner being declared at the end of the day, something not always possible in tournaments, where teams can be knocked out quickly, denying young players to chance to play and sometimes giving them a "negative impression of the game" (FIFA quotes).

The status quo is not acceptable. No wonder we have not made to the WC in more than 20 years on the men's side. LTPD was long overdue.