This year, I received the opportunity to cover the Humber Hawks men’s varsity team in the fall edition of the Humber Et Cetera. Besides the poor quality of soccer and dreadful web streams, I witnessed Humber win their third straight OCAA (provincial) title and first CCAA (national) title in 11 years.
The Hawks cruised through the OCAA season in convincing fashion, conceding four goals and losing twice to St. Clair and Sheridan. As great as the achievement sounds, it was far from an impressive championship run. Along with Humber being far superior against sides such as Fleming and Lambton, the Hawks won many games on moments of brilliance or poor defending from the opposing team.
Humber faced off against Seneca in the OCAA finals in a comfortable encounter. Despite Seneca having lots of the possession, they lacked cohesion going forward, and Humber simply broke them down on the counter.
Humber and Seneca were off to nationals in New Westminster B.C. to represent Ontario in the CCAA championships, with both sides coincidentally meeting in the semi-finals. It was déjà vu for Humber as they cruised by Seneca 3-0, advancing to the CCAA final having yet to face a quality side.
Humber faced off against VIU in a match that I’ve been waiting to see all season; certainly the Hawks were expected to face competent opposition in a national final.
VIU pushed Humber to their limits — they outworked and outplayed the Hawks for large portions of the match. VIU were the superior side that looked like national champions, but the Hawks were resilient and they dealt with everything the B.C. outfit threw at them, ultimately winning the game in a shootout.
Now don’t get me wrong, Humber is a great side, but we only caught flashes of how good they really are.
Many ask me, how could a team that hasn’t played great soccer become national champions?
As much as I’d like to say, “defence wins championships,” that wasn’t the case for the Hawks’ triumph. Humber had solidity at the back, but the fact that Canada’s national champions are unable to control the tempo of a game or string together several passes in a row is an indictment of the quality at this level.
Is it Humber’s fault for playing this way? No.
Could they have been better throughout the season? Definitely.
Humber should be proud of their achievement and cherish the moment for the rest of their lives. What I got out of this experience wasn’t how great this Hawks side was. But through covering soccer at the college level I received a wakeup call.
After Canada’s embarrassing exit in their final group game against Honduras, many fans were left furious. I stumbled upon comments on twitter such as “Why are these guys on the team?” “We have better players in Canada,” “Sack Stephen Hart,” and “Why not Morgan, Cavallini or Henry.”
To set the record straight, Hart was never going to avoid the sack after being humiliated in such a manner. The youth is promising, but the chance of these players changing the game against a superior side in Honduras was very unlikely. Lastly, and I repeat, CANADA DOES NOT HAVE BETTER PLAYERS.
Many feel that we have better players since our country is multi-cultural, but in reality we don’t. Having the chance to go through the youth system in Ontario and watch the best our country has to offer at the college level opened my eyes.
Canada has players with raw talent, and that’s no surprise based on our large population, but we don’t have the right system intact to develop elite players. We focus on building “super-teams” as early as 12 to compete in the OYSL, leaving leagues and competition imbalanced. We focus on running, scrimmaging and winning, when we should be focusing on the fundamentals.
Winning is an important part of the game because everybody wants to be a winner, but is winning all that matters?
Many parents in this country dish out hundreds of dollars yearly so their children can be a part of a winning team and many of those children fail to play outside of Canada.
Young players in this country lack the fundamental skills, tactical awareness and tactical intelligence needed to succeed at the highest levels in football. Players struggle to string together several passes, they’re unable to dribble past defenders, they provide no movement off the ball and many never fully understand their positional role
Now who do we put the blame on for these issues our youth face in this country?
Well anyone who’s been involved or associated with a soccer team at a competitive level in this country (parent, coach or player) needs to take a look in the mirror and hold his or herself responsible for our nation’s failure at the international level.
The problem with youth soccer in this country is the win-at-all-cost mentality that is instilled. Coaches teach their players and parents that winning is all that matters and they avoid teaching them skills needed to compete at a high level. Coaches need to be teachers of the game rather than recruiters who target players that rely on strength and speed.
Trophies are great, but by sticking to this philosophy, we ignore the fact that our players are deprived the opportunity to obtain the skills needed to thrive at an elite level. The key to youth development is educating both players and parents. We need to focus on smaller-side games and more training sessions, so children can have confidence when the ball is at their feet and be able to learn from their mistakes.
TSN soccer analyst and former Canadian international Jason deVos believes there is no short-term solution to our nations struggles at the international level.
“We must take a long-term approach, by completely overhauling our youth development structure,” deVos said.
“There is far too much emphasis placed on winning in youth soccer in Canada that must be structurally altered so that young players can be free to make mistakes that aid in learning.”
Luckily, Canadians are being presented with a solution to their international disappointments in recent years.
The answer is Long Term Player Development (LTPD). LTPD’s goal is to build a soccer environment that’ll develop young players to their full potential. The seven stage development program will eliminate gaps in player development, allow players to realize their athletic potential and enhance Canadian excellence in soccer.
According to the Ontario Soccer Association website, “LTPD is common practice in many of the best soccer nations in the world. It stresses, especially at the crucial early development ages, far less emphasis on games and “winning”, and much more on practice, touches, creativity, skill development and learning how to play and enjoy the game.” LTPD is focused on our kids enjoying the beautiful game of soccer and helping our country develop players capable of playing at an elite level internationally.
Goal.com chief editor Rudi Schuller believes that the CSA needs to take away some power from youth clubs and regional associations.
“As long as we have youth clubs fighting relegation and competing for registration dollars, we’ll see the bigger clubs poaching the best players to win which does little for the development of the individual player,” Schuller said.
It may take 10-20 years to see results from LTPD, but it’s the direction Canadian soccer needs to take in order to become a powerhouse in CONCACAF.
So the next time you feel the need to blame the CSA or state “Canada has better players out there,” remember that Canada doesn’t have a developmental youth program or a youth system capable of producing elite players.
Change in our youth system is in our hands as Canadians. The question is, are you willing to stand up and help make a difference?
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