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Women's futbol-Time for change?

With the Women's World Cup 2015 now wrapped up in Canada, I have decided to examine the women's game in Canada and compare it to Spain where women's football is in its infancy. Canada on paper has always been in the top 10 as long as I can remember but most of us say the gap is closing in on Canada as more footballing nations start taking women's football seriously and injecting some funds into the women game.

Our typical North American game is a game based on power, physical strength and pace. My comment is not gender specific but a general statement on both the male and female game. I have heard the North American player referred to as an athletic player. Why are North American players athletic? Is it a polite way to say that they are technically and tactically inferior or is it because typically North Americans have played multiple sports which makes them athletic? Whatever the reason may be we need to change the description of a North American player to that of an intelligent, technical/tactical "athletic"player . How do we do that? The answer is very simple actually!! We need to promote free play where players can play with no parent or coach intervention and just for the fun of it. Just for the love of the game as many of us say. We need to have more qualified coaching especially at the younger ages and a culture that will breed these players. Pretty simple eh? As we all know though, these simple suggestions I gave requires time, initiative, $$$ and a unified country. Rewind to around 2005 and the Canadian Soccer Association created their version of the LTAD from Canadian Sport for life. The CSA called it Wellness to World Cup and LTPD-Long Term Player Development.

LTPD is a program for soccer player development, training, competition, and recovery based on biological age (i.e. physical maturity) rather than chronological age. It is player centred, coach driven, and administration, sport science, and sponsor supported.(Wellness to World Cup)

Has the CSA missed out one important part to this? It is based on the stage the player is at rather than the age and this is a step in the right direction. It is player centred rather than team centred. That is another positive in developing better players individually that can become the intelligent players I mentioned earlier and indirectly create better teams with superior players. But what about gender? Is a male player the same as a female player? Do they physically mature at different ages, is there a difference in physical strength?

As the Women’s World Cup has ended for Canada we have two sides of the fence. People that were inspired by the Canadian team and saw them losing by “one” goal in the quarterfinals to England. Canada made it to the last 8 and it matched their ranking of 8 going in the World Cup. We were 8th, we made it to the last 8 so although we were disappointed we finished exactly where we were supposed to. On the other side of the fence we have those that have said that our system of development requires change in Canada and we are not doing the right things to have a system develop players. Players are developing on their own by chance. By chance as most will say is not good enough. Would you leave your child’s education up to chance? I don’t think anyone would answer yes to that question.

So what are other countries doing to develop their female players? The women’s game has been dominated by the US, Germany, Sweden in the early years and now you can add Japan and France to the mix. Canada up until this point has probably been on the outside of this group. Able to grab a result now and then but most often losing to these teams ranked ahead of them. More and more countries have now decided to invest funds into the women’s game and the most important part is that federations are taking the women’s game more seriously. There were 24 teams at this year’s World Cup in Canada and only a few games were blowouts. This mean the teams are getting stronger and more teams are pushing their way up the ladder like the Netherlands, Colombia and a few others. We also had some new countries get to the World Cup like Spain. They may have gone out at the group stage and may have some problems internally, but they are 1-2 World Cups away from moving up the ladder and some results at the youth stages would suggest that.

2015-First FIFA Women's World Cup-out at group stage 2014-UEFA U19 Finalist 2014-FIFA U17 World Cup Finalist 2014-UEFA U17 Finalist 2013 UEFA U17 3rd place 2012-UEFA U19 Finalist 2011-UEFA U17 Champions 2010-FIFA U17 3rd place 2010-UEFA U17 Champions 2009-UEFA U17 Finalist

As a father of 4 boys, most of my coaching and involvement in the game has been with male players. Since my time in Catalunya, the articles that I have written have been based on the boy’s game. I decided to ask some questions to see what they are doing in Spain on the female side and see how that compares to the female game in Canada. The futbol landscape of the two countries is so different and really hard to compare with Spain having success on a world stage on the men's side and some recent success of the women on the youth stage. They are a futbolling nation and although their World Cup 2014 campaign came to an abrupt end in Brazil, they are still producing world-class players and Spanish players are scattered throughout most European leagues. The foundation is there already and with almost 24000 licensed coaches, a style of play which we have enjoyed watching and a system which is developing players, the transition of that to the women’s game shouldn’t be that difficult. Of course there are hurdles of stereotyping the women’s game of not being important or the women’s game not being as good as the men’s game. In fact when I asked most people in Catalunya about the Women’s World Cup, most said, “Ah, it’s in Canada right?” Maybe not the best indication asking Catalans about the Spanish National team but most knew next to nothing about it and it wasn’t until a few days before that I saw a few commercials for the World Cup. Despite the lack of coverage and not really being mainstream, the female game is growing. On the flip side, in Canada as hosts, there was a natural buildup to the World Cup. From an organizational standpoint, things went great and it seems that the Women’s team has inspired a nation once again from what I have read and heard but the Women's World Cup has filed away for most in Canada. Most remember the Bronze Medal match at the London Olympics, not for the way we were outplayed the whole game, not that if France capitalized on their chances they would have won the bronze, but rather that we won the bronze. You win a game by scoring one more goal than your opponent and we did that. You don’t win by out chancing the other team, as France did to us. You don’t necessarily win when you play better futbol either but as futbol purists you want to win in style.

In Spain the women’s game is at its infancy still. If I look at the pictures on the wall in the club’s offices where my boys played this last season (Vic Riuprimer FC), I see one women’s team in 2005. It was a senior team and that was it. No organized play for youth girls at their club 10 years ago. Still to this date they have only 6 teams scattered from the young ages to senior side. The senior side plays in the 2nd division of Spain and the quality is quite high. I have watched a few games and enjoyed them for their technical and tactical play. They have a national women’s league of 2 divisions and the lower regional divisions. Again, high quality games every weekend to improve them individually and collectively, but that goes from the time they start the game at 6 or 7 to senior soccer, 30-40 games/year.

The girl’s game is structured differently than the boy’s game here. Part of that has to do with the number of players. The number of registered players is increasing but age groups are in 4-year blocks with some overlapping of ages. You have Infantil-Alevi (born 2001-2004 or U11-14), Cadet-Infantil(born 1999-2002 or U13-16), and Juvenil-Cadet(1996-2000 or U15-19) and senior soccer.

The 2nd biggest difference between futbol in Canada and in Catalunya is that 7v7 is played up until Cadet-Infantil. That is the U13-16 group. So you have some U16s in Catalunya that play on half a pitch 7v7. Some back home would say, “Is that real soccer?” Some of the reasons they do it is logistical and definitely started that way in terms of number of female players to the number of available pitches etc. Now they see it as development tool. As I mentioned in my opening statement, LTPD was developed for soccer in Canada after LTAD. It was a tool created to develop better players in Canada. LTPD takes all factors into account to produce that better player except gender with respect to game day experience and what is best for them. Male and female players are different. They mature at different ages, their physical strength is different and the female game is different, especially in Canada. Yet, the standards have been put in place in Canada with LTPD, U8-10 7v7, U11-12 9v9 and U13 and up 11v11 for both boys and girls. How many have watched a female game at U13-16? What type of game have you seen? Can these girls switch a ball the width of the pitch? With all that space how do the big, strong girls do? How do the smaller ones perform on the full field? Is the game providing enough decision-making opportunities to improve them individually as players? Have we made the mistake having these females play the “Real” Game at U13? How about the boys as well? These are all important questions we should as ask if we are serious about improving the female game. How are female players developed? The same way boys are developed? The system is very difficult when we have just over 500 licensed coaches across Canada to Spain’s 24000 and counting licensed coaches. The “culture” is another difference and difficult to understand. Kids are playing futbol all the time here in Catalunya. My boys trained 3 times/week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They had a match almost every weekend from October to May. The weekends that were holiday weekends they were involved in tournaments. The month of June was basically a tournament every weekend. They played 40-50 games this season with basically a 3 to 1 training to game ratio. The 3-4 tournament weekends were a bit different but still they probably only played what was equivalent to a full match per day. So they had maybe 3-2 training to game ratio for 3-4 tournament weekends, which was not the norm. This happens on the female side as well. Free time here is also spent playing futbol and even my guys year-end party ended up being a team rondo just for fun.

How many times have you done a rondo in training only for a player to ask, “When are we going to play the real game?” This is the culture here and kids have fun for hours playing rondo. This is something you can’t just create in Canada as demands on kids increase with the number of activities they are involved in to make them better all rounded individuals. You can’t change the weather in Canada, as really cold winters don’t help. You can’t change the fact that hockey in Canada is the number one sport. What can you change then?

You can change the way we “try” and develop players and become progressive. Obviously we have not been doing it correctly or doing it at all. The men are ranked 109 and the women are 8th. Some will argue 8th is respectable and it is but we are no where near the top 5-6, and the slide will happen as our stars age and the system is not there to produce a player pool for the national teams, 1-2 players is not enough. If you look at Canada in the World Cup, John Herdman used pretty consistently the same 11. Two of those players were off quite a bit prior to the World Cup with injury and school over the last 1-2 years. Diana Matheson was coming off an injury and a few others played some minutes. We had some bright spots like Kadeisha Buchanan, but what is consistently coming down the pipeline? How did our Women’s National team fair at the last U17 and U20 World Cups? The U17s lost to Venezuela in the 1/4s. Venezuela was full of 13-16 year olds and if there development continues they could very well move up 5-10 years from now. The U20s lost to Germany, the eventual World Cup winners 2-0 in the 1/4s. So U17s, U20s and women all went down in the 1/4s. This should be of concern to the CSA and the coaching staff of the National teams. It’s no secret that we don’t have a plethora of players capable of playing on the world stage, they know that. We have indentified our shortcomings and even if it’s as simplified observation by the average person of we cannot keep up on the world stage and we will continue to drop. The more important question has to be what are “we” going to do about it. The “we” refers to all involved in the game. That means starting from the top, the CSA all the way down to that player.

What is the CSA doing and how are they going to change the game? I watched almost all of Canada’s games, as did some of my sons. A few didn’t finish until 330am for us and a few comments of why did we stay up for this but what was common was the lack of technical skills to play on a world level. Forget about tactics as no technique=no tactics. The way they received the ball with no pressure/pressure, the way they were facing, their touch, their positioning and their movement was poor. My one son kept saying these girls are terrible; this is embarrassing as the host country. On one hand it is, on the other hand, how can it be embarrassing if this is the result of our development system? It’s not the players’ faults. We can’t keep producing players the way we produce them. The fact is all recreational adult leagues are played the same way at a lower level of course, but we can’t be happy with our national style of play, can we? We can’t continue to leave it up to chance. We can’t continue to have no licensing for coaches developing players from U8-12. You can’t change things at 13, let alone a World Cup. LTPD is a good initiative but how are clubs developing players differently now with LTPD. Who is accountable for this? Who is overseeing this development? Everything requires money but when will we have a youth department at the CSA that creates a unified pathway and vision, a youth department that is working across the country to improve and grow the game together. A youth LICENSE that is required to coach from U6-12. A youth department that can be held accountable for our results, and lead us forward. In 2014 the CSA released their strategic plan. There were 4 major parts to the document. I have included Part 2, Ensure World-Class Performances. We are completing the 2nd year of the 5 year plan , so we have to wait for the full 5 years and reserve judgement but how much will change in 3 years time?

Spain has always had talented players but as a National team always under performed on the men's side. They felt their system wasn’t good enough and needed better coaching throughout Spain. As I mentioned there are almost 24000 licensed UEFA A, B and Pro coaches. Many of these coaches make 0 to 200-300€/month. But collectively with the Spanish FA, the clubs and the coaches have increased the quality of the player here with better caching. They have their own unique system of developing their player and we in Canada need to find our way. But doing nothing or doing the same thing will get us nowhere. I still believe that we need to create two distinct streams (amongst many other things), a recreational and a competitive developmental from U6-12 and they must be structured with standards. In order to improve our results at World Cups we need to improve our standards from U6-12 to begin with. If we don’t fix that age group how do we fix the rest? These players need OPDL like standards for U6-12. Some will say how will they play other sports and its not good to specialize so early. If you train 3 times/week and one game on the weekend you can do several things on the other days like just being a kid and playing outdoors and enjoying other sports for fun. 4 to 6 hours/week is not specializing in my opinion. This is key to having balance and not feeling like all your life is spent in a car driving so your child can be well rounded. This routine is hard to get out of in Canada but parents have to realize that it’s not the best thing for your child. A childhood must be fun and those should be the memories and not the memories of going from activity 1 to 2, eating in the car, doing homework in the car and never being able to play with friends! The World Cup is now over and we will see what transpires after these Pan Am games and see if anything changes. I am hopeful and I think as fans of the world's game the tipping point has been reached, at least for me, something has to be done!

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