Questions, Answers and Misconceptions about LTPD

There are some legitimate questions and also some of the misconceptions that continue to be spread around regarding the CSA's Wellness to World Cup Long Term Player Development model. Although we have had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from parents, Clubs and Districts, here are some of the “negatives” that we hear:

1) Kids are leaving soccer because of LTPD
2) Kids and parents want scores and standings
3) Kids need to “learn how to lose”
4) We’re getting rid of competition and kids need to learn that competition is part of life
5) LTPD is just for the ”elite” player/LTPD is only concerned with the recreational player
6) LTPD is being ‘pushed’ by s bunch of academics that know nothing about soccer and are trying to tell parents what is good for their own kids

Let’s briefly discuss each of the above:

1) Kids are leaving soccer because of LTPD

While some unhappy parents may be looking at other sport options for their child, the facts are actually as follows: we have been losing kids in big numbers in recent years and the feedback is inevitably the same: kids are pressured at too early an age and coaches and parents yell all the time. If winning and losing games at the age of 8 or 9 is why a parent chooses a sport for their son or daughter, it may be important to re-assess why children are involved in youth sports. Kids want to have fun and “get better”. We have tried to deliver that message but perhaps parents are not receiving the full message and our broader intent.

2) Kids and parents want scores and standings

Yes, many parents and kids do typically want scores and standings. But that approach, while what parents know and are familiar with, has clearly not led to healthy results. We have seen major drop-out rates in recreation and competitive soccer. And we are simply not properly developing the majority of those youngsters who enjoy and actually have a passion and a skill for this sport. Sure, some do make it, often despite the “system”, but most don’t.

We don’t have “class rankings” in elementary schools, for example. We introduce that when our youngsters are older and better able to understand competition and what it means. It makes sense to do the same in sports.

We need to do a whole lot better—and we will.

3) Kids need to “learn how to lose”

Yes, kids need to learn how to lose. But do we seriously think these lessons have to be taught the age of 8, 9, 10 or 11? And who is doing the so-called “teaching” about losing—and what impact is it having on our kids? Youngsters are naturally competitive and keep score in every game they play. Kids aren’t the problem. Too often, parents and coaches are the problem. There are many great volunteer coaches in our system and many thoughtful, supportive and engaged parents. But enough parents and coaches with wonky priorities have wrecked things for the others.

Let’s let the kids keep score, but teach them the skills they need without fear of making mistakes and being screamed at for fear of losing a game and a chance at moving up the league standings. How will kids learn the skills they need in a sport like soccer if they are afraid to try things because of the adults around them?

4) Kids need to learn that competition is part of life

Of course competition is a part of life. Players will be competing against each other at each practice session and each game from 6 years of age. But we’re talking about soccer at the early ages where we will de-emphasize standings and there will be no league champion. There will be plenty of competition and plenty of games and competition at the young ages—we just won’t focus on standings.

If people are honest, the current system has its fair share of coaches poaching players and recruiting the biggest, fastest, oldest players they can. Parents and coaches yell “kick it out, kick it out, get rid of the ball…” to alarmed children, all to tell them to get the ball up to the big, fast kid who can score and “win the game”. This leads to placing their team high in the standings, but it’s not a real team when only a few players matter and skills are not being developed.

Sadly, this poisonous cycle never stops. Surely no one truly believes that approach is healthy—or develops the skills of ALL young players? Are some kids more important than others? Because under the old system, that’s what we had, a focus on a very few players, while other players sat, got little playing time and virtually no attention so they could improve. The result was lost confidence—and players lost to soccer. That certainly wasn’t “fun” for all the players.

There will still be a challenging competition structure of progression, but those youngsters who don’t make higher levels right away won’t be forgotten, as happened too often in the past.

5) LTPD is just for the ”elite” player/LTPD is only concerned with the recreational player

In fact, LTPD is for both the elite players who aspire to a future in the game and also for the recreational player. Recreational soccer is the backbone of our sport. Kids wants to play for fun, fitness, healthy activity and because they like to compete. LTPD will enhance this experience because more kids will now have the ability to play the game at a skill level that will make the experience fun. Yes, we will have to work hard to make sure coaching methods improve, so kids want to come to training sessions and are always learning new things and not standing around. We have enhanced our coaching programs to help achieve exactly that result. But it’s a work in progress.

For those youngsters that aspire to a scholarship or playing for Canada, professionally or internationally, LTPD will at long last help many more of those youngsters to develop the touches and skills they need to be comfortable and creative on the ball—which is what sets most countries apart from Canada.

6) LTPD is being pushed by a bunch of academics that know nothing about soccer and are trying to tell parents what is good for their kids

If critics of LTPD choose to ignore the science and research behind LTPD, fine. Then just listen to the coaches around the globe, some of the best and brightest, who talk about why we need to focus on skills development and not winning games at the young ages. This has been happening elsewhere for years already. And if people don’t believe what is being said and practiced around the rest of the soccer world by coaches and players who know what they are talking about and are truly expert in this field, at least be aware that our own best Canadian players, like Diana Matheson and Dwayne De Rosario support this initiative one hundred per cent. And they are far from alone.

Lets be clear: I repeat—kids are not the problem. We adults have been, however, a huge problem and remain so. Just because we have kept standings at the early ages for years doesn’t mean it was—or is—a good thing. When we discover that something is unhealthy in our lives, we change it. Every time. That’s what we are doing now.

Will kids still compete? A ton—and they should. Will we lose some kids to other sports? Maybe, though most all youth sports are moving in this direction, too, right across Canada. Are we over-protecting our kids? Hardly. We’re not ridding the entire system of standings—just the young ages. And that is, in part, to get away from the outdated approaches described above while ensuring that ALL kids get a chance to fall in love and stay in love with our great sport.

Surely we aren’t relying on kids “losing a soccer game” at the age of 9 or 10 to teach them about disappointment, handling adversity, sportsmanship or competing? Before we expect a student to apply for Law School—and possibly “fail” in their attempt—we make sure they have the basics down cold through years of study, training and proper support in the “system”. That’s the least we should do with children in sport before we make them deal with things like “relegation”.

Why should a youth team be built around a handful of players while every other youngster waits their turn to play, develop and gain confidence? That’s what we’re fighting, and we’re not going to turn back now because some people are upset by change. We all resist change. But when change is about making for a healthier environment, we have to stay the course. And we will.

It’s time to measure “success” differently. If some people really and truly believe that a trophy for children based on “winning” at the age of 9 or 10 is more important than having fun and actually developing the skills needed to play the sport well, then clearly they will not support LTPD. We understand that. But we hope you will give LTPD time.

This is supposed to be about and for ALL our kids. Not just a few, or the biggest and fastest, or those identified at the early ages while others are ignored. For every young person that gets a scholarship or advances to play at the highest levels, there are probably 10 others, including late-bloomers, who never received the support, attention and nurturing they needed and deserved just as much as those who “made it”. It’s time to be honest and change the system. Too many kids have been missed who could have been outstanding players. And too many kids who wanted to stay in the game have left because it simply wasn’t fun any more and opportunities to play at an elite level are scarce as players get older. We can ignore it or pretend it’s not true, but the research is clear on that.

We are trying to listen and be responsive to concerns that some people have. That said, it’s about time we shifted focus and we’re doing exactly that. We won’t be perfect as we make this transition. We’ll make mistakes. But it will be because we are trying to do everything we can to help more kids, not fewer.

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