Why are we still losing?

by Lisette V.

Canada’s most popular team sport ranks low in FIFA-classification

Not hockey, but soccer is currently the most popular team sport in Canada. Today an amazing amount (767,000) of Canadian children and adolescents are playing soccer, ages 3-6, 7-12, and 13-17. Taken the massive population base (>35 million), impressive numbers of fields and organized leagues, several high-level professional teams, and a low cost for playing the game, it seems to be the ground base for the development of elite soccer players. However, until recent, Canada is still falling behind at a 104th place in the FIFA-ranking, and was not able to qualify itself for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Let’s start with the core, how does Canada produce its elite players? A recent article on the TSN website caught my eye: “Canada needs to rethink development to compete with top nations”. http://soccer.tsn.ca/news/canada-needs-rethink-development-compete-with-top-nations. This article states the importance of a long-term plan, which is only created recently. The Long-Term Player Development (LTPD, 2009), might be the start for sustainable development of star-quality players. The plan is promising, with roots in scientific research about the natural stages of physical, mental, cognitive, and emotional growth in athletes.

The first phase (<12 years old), is based on European principles – more practices, fewer games, and greater emphasis on technical skills. Stage 1: Active start: focuses mainly on the development of basic technical skills in a fun environment. Children nowadays are very busy, and will therefore drop out easily. Enjoyment is the most important factor to promote their sport commitment (Scanlan, Carpenter, Schmidt, Simons, & Keeler, 1993). Stage 2: Fundamentals: focuses on games that promote a ‘feel of the ball’. Children will be able to play small games in a 3v3 to a 5v5 setting. I remember that playing in small teams invites all players to participate in the game. Stage 3: Learning to train: focuses on disciplined training with a 6v6 to 8v8 setting. This last stage will prepare them fully for playing in a competitive setting. Because this first phase is based on gaining skills, there will be no score-keeping. Yes I hear you thinking: ‘No, score-keeping, why?’. Think about this: isn’t the primary role as a coach to educate? Creating a safe, enjoyable learning environment will only maximize the potential in all soccer players. It’s about giving players time to experiment, before they are ‘forced’ to focus on winning. Focusing on the task rather than winning can promote self-esteem, which will be important for the self-development of young adolescents (Nicholls, 1989).

The next phase (12-19+), focuses more on the soccer competitions; refining skills and tactics (stage 4), refine maturity in game play (stage 5), and eventually compete at the highest level of national and international competitions (stage 6). Because soccer players only start competing at the age of 12 years old, they have enjoyed late sport-specialization. This is beneficial, since it will produce less serious injuries and less burnouts (Myer, Jayanthi, Difiori, Faigenbaum, Kiefer, Logerstedt, & Micheli, 2015). At the start of this phase, elite soccer teams can express their interest. However coaches and parents need to be aware of the mental, physical, tactical, and technical maturity of their players.

The last stage 7: Active for life, includes recreational soccer players of all ages. After elite players retire, they could become coaches, sport science specialists, mentors, referees, or administrators. This will help sustain and maintain soccer development in the long-term.

From this we can see: we are not still losing, we are slowly building a new developmental structure. This whole process needs time. Even though Canada is not (yet) considered a soccer country, it could be one in the future. Their recent approach seems very promising, and with their recent developments: It would be worth the wait!


BMO (2009). Wellness to World Cup: Long Term Player Development, Canadian Soccer Association, 1, 1-59.

Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., Difiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., and Micheli, L. J. (2015). Sport specialization, part I: Does early sport specialization increase negative outcomes and reduce the opportunity for sucess in young athletes? Sports Health: A multidisciplinary Approach, 7 (5), 1-6.  

Nicholls, J. G. (1989). The competitive ethos and democratic education. Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard Uiiversity Press.

Scanlan, T. K., Carpenter, P. J., Schmidt, G. W., Simons, J. P., and Keeler, B. (1993). An introduction to the sport commitment model, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 15, 1-15.

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2 Responses to Why are we still losing?

  1. thomasmike17 says:

    I agree with the model for plans of growing soccer players to become professional or to help our country produce a better national ranking in the future. However, the number of children enrolled making it the most popular is due to the sport being inexpensive, and that number would be dramatically cut when you look at children who would want to take the sport seriously and have a goal of reaching a level of playing on the national team. Secondly the number would decrease even more when you see how many children play soccer as a secondary sport. After technical skills, fundamentals of the game, and competitiveness has been integrated in the long-term player development plan, the children are now ages 12-19. Of these children, how many of them would have the financial support to continue processing their game to compete at the national or international level. When in the beginning many of these children joined soccer because it was an inexpensive activity.
    With late specialization of these players starting at age 12 how are we supposed to compete against countries who focus on specializing their children at the age of 5-7. Yes the Canadian children may have less serious injury and less burnout, but their development will still be behind other countries. With starting earlier many children may burn out but out of the whole population of these children, many will still maintain the desire to play when they first started, leaving us still far behind.
    I believe that it will be hard to get to the top of the soccer world as Canada’s focused sport is hockey and that is where the main focus and dreams of making it to the highest level is within kids. It is much easier to have the determination and belief of reaching the highest level in a sport where your country is already within the top ranks.

  2. Oliver J says:

    Great post, I found it very thoughtful and interesting! Being from England, I have grown up always wanting to be a professional soccer player. In my culture and country, soccer is the main sport that we grow up playing and because of this we start participating at a very young age. I agreed and disagreed with some of the points you made about the Long term Player Development model. Firstly, I believe that this plan is a good start in developing elite top level players in Canada; something they have been unable to do so far. In fact, many of the top players born in Canada, such as: Owen Hargreaves, Jonathan de Guzmán and Asmir Begovic, all chose to represent nations that their immediate family was from, because of the low level that Canada’s national team is at. The first stage focused on mimicking ‘the European way’ and this is because many of the top clubs in world soccer are either from Europe or south America and if Canadian youth wants to develop quality players then copying what European countries practices would be a successful way to do so.

    One of the points you made that I strongly disagreed with was about how soccer players only start competing at the age of 12. From the age of around 5/6 i was being taught the importance of having fun in soccer but also how important winning is. Learning how to win and how important it is from a young age pushed my team mates and I and we developed and integrated a winning mentality from a young age. You mentioned how kids are being forced to have a winning mentality, where as I believe this is the main reason as to why European and south American youth are developing quicker and more frequently into world class elite soccer players.

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