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Discussion of Soccer Improvement gets Kicked Around
2009-08-06

Weekly Column now appears in Northern Life - every Thursday

A little over one year ago, I penned a column that took a look at soccer in Sudbury and the work that was being done to try and improve the sport, especially on a competitive level.

The most recent edition of the Panhellenic Tournament not only provided a wonderful venue to take in a number of very exciting matches, but also a nice opportunity to catch up with a handful of people who have been involved in soccer for much of their lives.

The conversation was engaging, energetic, at times heated and passionate – all of which are positives, in my mind anyways. So the question remains – are we any closer today to developing a structure that allows for a more efficient and effective vehicle for the sport of soccer to prosper in Greater Sudbury?

Truthfully, the answer is likely “yes” and “no”. Being somewhat of an eternal optimist, I’ll tackle the pro-side first. The good news, in part, is that the committee that was struck to examine the overall template for soccer continues to move forward, attempting to gain consensus across the board for a system that would offer some improvement to the current state of soccer in the city.

Let me be very clear in stating that this discussion does not take away one iota from the great work being done at multiple levels by many volunteers who care deeply about the most popular sport on the planet. To suggest that there is no success currently being achieved would be inaccurate.

However, talk to those involved and it’s clear that these successes are occurring largely in spite of a developmental model that needs to be improved, not because of it. Back to our committee – discussion is always better than no talk at all. There are differences of opinion that exist – that was to be expected.

Still, it was extremely encouraging to hear that even those who do not share the same vision of how exactly change should be implemented most often concur, within a general framework, of what the end result should look like.

There are few within the soccer community who do not believe that a much more co-jointed effort is needed to move the sport forward. Working together to form a better relationship between houseleague recreational programs and the competitive ranks for whom a certain percentage of players will aspire remains a basic tenant of a large number of soccer volunteers.

Likewise, it is clear to virtually everyone that a fragmented competitive club system that condones, almost by necessity of survival, the need to raid opposing teams, is not in the best interest of the overall growth of rep soccer in the area. The fact that almost everyone I have talked to on this topic agrees with these thoughts is at least somewhat encouraging.

Still, the challenges remain daunting. While I absolutely believe that a one-club system or something akin to that which brings all those involved in soccer locally under one umbrella organization remains the end goal, I can certainly understand why those involved with rec soccer see no imminent need for change.

Sure, striving to improve the overall level of coaching and the basic skill development for all youth players would prove advantageous to the improvement in the caliber of play in general.

But I don’t think that most houseleague clubs view this as their primary mandate. Rather, their goal is plain and simply to provide a place where children can play soccer in a fun-filled environment, getting a little exercise in the process – nothing more, nothing less.

And while issues such as ensuring that talent is evenly distributed throughout houseleague teams, improvement and greater support for game officials and constant vigilance towards coaches who seem to lack the ability to grasp that they are competing at a level where full participation should always supercede the need to win, all need to be tackled, most parents of houseleague players seem to be satisfied with the experience their children are enjoying.

Truth be told, it should come as little surprise that when a discussion of soccer improvement in Sudbury is being held, it is really the “soccer” people who weigh in most frequently. And a large majority of those people are involved in some aspect of competitive soccer.

To that end, the idea of tackling the framework of local rep soccer, currently housed within the Sudbury Regional Competitive Soccer League (SRCSL), first and foremost, provides an initial step that appears reasonably pragmatic.

The biggest bump along the road within the competitive ranks seems to inevitably occur between the U-11 and U-14 age groupings, as coaches and managers jockey for position to achieve long-term objectives for their teams.

More often than not, the fractured approach causes local representatives to struggle mightily against their provincial counterparts, making it very difficult to sustain the interest of players year after year when the level of local competition is all over the map.

I certainly don’t sit here professing to have all the answers and I’m not entirely convinced that anything will necessarily come of the work of those currently spearheading this discussion locally. But I have taken note of one interesting irony to the entire debate.

It seems that the moment the conversation turns to looking at ways to amalgamate our efforts, volunteers feel threatened. It is somehow viewed as being tantamount to suggesting that “we need to bring all of soccer together under one roof because your group clearly does not know what they are doing.”

And yet, this is the furthest thing from the truth. The fact is that many people helping out at both the recreational and competitive levels of soccer should be, must be, key components of the process moving forward. As is in the case in so many other sports, soccer can use more volunteers, not fewer.

Developing any kind of template for organized soccer without having a buy-in from those currently involved is a step backwards. One which soccer in Sudbury can ill-afford.

Greater Sudbury Soccer Club