"Develop as many players for as long as possible." Have you heard this yet?
I am sure many have heard this before, "Develop as many players for as long as possible?' If you haven't already heard this it means give opportunities to as many players with the same standards for as long as possible. With this you have larger player bases, with the same training and you develop more players. This is no secret as most countries have been doing this for a long time. In Canada you have heard this phrase probably in the last 10 years or so. So what have they done to change the mentality of clubs, coaches, parents and all those involved in the game?
Many will say that the football community is even more fractured and for many different reasons. Some people are stubborn and the powers to be "don't know what they are doing". Others will say they know best and do their own thing. Sometimes rival leagues are created to satisfy what the "customer's" wants. Whatever it may be, whether its a valid reason or not there has to come a time when everybody is in it together, for the same reasons and for the same results. There are some good things happening in Canada. The creation of the Canadian Premier League and the awarding of the 2026 FIFA World Cup to the United bid of Canada, Mexico and the United States have brought some attention to the game. The CanPL team unveilings each week have been exciting and coupled along with the FIFA World Cup in Russia has had a huge spotlight on the sport of soccer in Canada. The communities are rallying behind their community clubs and securing memberships for season tickets in the new professional league. There is excitement in the sport and even for traditionally "non-soccer" folk. So we have some great things happening at the top with our very own professional league but how will we develop these players for our own domestic league? Will we continue to develop players in the same way? Will clubs do things differently because we now have something to strive for? Or will we talk a good game only to do things the way each individual thinks as the best way?
Now back to the title of the article, "Develop as many players for as long as possible." The statement is simple in what it says, but is it simple? Most will agree with this statement but somehow the bulk of the players are not being developed in the same way. Why do you say? We in North America like to categorize players for some unknown reason and we like to have multiple "leagues" for players to play in and normally nothing is connected. I will use Ontario as the example as that is where I lived last in Canada. First of all people will say there are recreational players, rep players, travel team players, high performance players, development players, OPDL Players, SAAC players, OASL players, Regional players, Provincial players, District players, houseleague players, hockey players.....and so on. Am I right, did I miss any? Does anyone see anything fundamentally wrong with classifying players? People in the last few years have laughed at posts looking for players for U8 etc and having tryouts at such young ages. Everybody will say that it's wrong and we need to keep as many players engaged for as long as possible. Have you heard that Canada has the lowest per capita professional footballers in the developed world? That means we are doing a terrible job developing players. So why do we have to label players from such a young age? Why do we conduct tryouts? Why do we do this, why do we do that? What is wrong with calling them developing footballers or developing soccer players? North America has a fascination with labels and youth sports and I don't why. Maybe somebody can answer this in the comments section of the blog.
If the end result is to keep as many kids in the game under the same standards why do we create multiple streams, with multiple leagues, with multiple standards and so on. Why not just develop all players in the same way from the beginning? Isn't this everyone's dream? Or when you actually think about it, it would be bad for the game because it would result in a loss revenue stream? Because it would be difficult to adhere to standards for all these types of "players" because we have created different standards depending what the customer wants? We have created targeted development goals for each type of player with the goal to keep each player engaged or does "engaged" mean revenue? Whatever it means, we are failing to provide the same standard so does that mean, "Develop as many players for as long as possible" is just rhetoric? Maybe it should read, "Keep players engaged in the sport and whatever happens, happens whatever "type" of player they may be and whatever stream they are part of but let's keep taking their money because we have created a service that the customer is using. Sound good? Lets take revenue out of the equation for a bit.
What would a perfect system look like? Nothing is perfect but let me explain to you what is done here in Catalonia. I know some will say what if they just want to play for "fun" or this is Canada and not Catalonia. I know some will say that they are "specializing" from such a young age. What does specializing mean? Some should perhaps do some research before throwing out one of the most popular catch phrases out their "Specializing." It's very simple here, football starts at home. A ball is given to a child as soon as possible. I have posted many videos in the past on twitter of kids playing with their parents or on the own in the town square where I live. This continues and never really stops until they are old enough and play with their friends at school, in the park or wherever they can. Formal soccer will begin at 5/6 at their local club and likely will be a soccer school environment. They will have fun, learn some development appropriate skills, play some games and go home. This is usually twice/week. Next stage is U7/U8 when "teams" are formed or better described as age groups. They may have anywhere from one team to as many as they need. The rosters are pretty open for movement and they train 3x/week for a total of 4-4.5 hours and then usually a game which is pretty local on the weekend. Then there is U10, U12, U14, U16 and U19. Training sessions increase in frequency in the older age groups. Its a pretty simple system and training 3-4 hours per week as a 6 year old vs 5-6 hours per week as a teenager is really not specializing in my opinion. All clubs fall under one system, the Catalan Federation. On their website you can see the results and divisions from Segunda B all they way down to U8. All of it is interconnected. Promotion and Relegation exists in youth football here. It is a bit different in that the clubs holds the spots within each age group. Teams move up and down within the age group but players move through the different age groups. This format builds a stronger club throughout as it is in your best interest to develop players at your club all the way through instead of losing players to other clubs because at a certain age group your teams are in lower divisions so players leave before that. Players are encouraged to move to other clubs at a higher level and clubs are proud when players do so. It is very common at the stadium bars here that pictures are displayed of players that have moved on to bigger clubs. When you move on to bigger clubs it usually costs you less money if anything at all. Youth football in Spain is generally pay to play although fees are quite low compared to North America, typical fees are 250-500€/per year which is generally a 10 month season. There are multiple divisions in each age group so there is an appropriate level for all kids. Some kids who would be deemed recreational in North America, may play in the 3rd or 4th tier here but are still getting 3 sessions of week plus their weekend match. Whether you play top tier or bottom tier the standards are the same. This system is all inclusive and really is developing as many players for as long as possible. I don't know of many stats from here regarding dropouts but most play until U19. Some dropout along the way of course but there isn't a 12-13 year old dropout trend like they write about in North America.
So the moral of the story, if we truly want to keep as many players around for as long as possible, then we need to do it. Lets do what is right for developing players. Lets do what is right for the game. Lets make player first decisions. Lets all fall under one system, Create the same standards for all players, all soccer players that is. Pretty simple isn't it? Everybody do their part and get the ball rolling. I believe this can be done if people are doing what is right for the game. The biggest hurdle will be lost $$$$$$ in the short term as you will lose players that don't want to be a "developing soccer player" or a parent more than likely that doesn't want it. But in the long run the sport would be stronger for it. But it would be nice if for once, if the appropriate steps were taken to do the right things for the sport!!
Develop as many players for as long as possible
If you have any comments, they can be left below or you can contact me on twitter @gsarakinis or email firstname.lastname@example.org