In the wake of Canada's elimination from the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, there will be plenty of people searching for a scapegoat to blame.
Some will point their fingers at Carolina Morace, the Italian head coach who decided that the best preparation for the tournament would be to isolate the team in a residency camp in Rome.
Others will point their fingers at the players, who were bullish on their chances of success in Germany, given their confidence in Morace and the success she brought to the team leading up to the World Cup.
Some will blame the media, who were equally bullish about the team's chances of success at the World Cup. They will argue that the level of expectation heaped on the ladies surely played a role in their demise.
And finally, there will be those who blame the Canadian Soccer Association. These folks will be ignorant to the fact that the CSA went to the wall for Morace, giving her everything she asked for in order to prepare this team for the World Cup.
This same witch hunt occurs whenever the men are eliminated, either from the Gold Cup tournament or from World Cup Qualifying.
Why did we lose so badly? Why did this team fail?
The problem is this is a micro analysis. Why did this group of 23 players fail? What could the players/the coach/the CSA have done differently in order for this group of 23 players to succeed? It focuses only on those directly involved with the team.
This isn't the sort of analysis that we need. What we really need is a macro analysis.
I'm talking about the big picture. Why do we, as a nation, fail to produce enough players who are capable of being competitive at the international level? Why do we, as a nation, fail to produce players who have the technical proficiency with which to succeed at the World Cup level?
Canada far behind in player development
Make no bones about it; in terms of player development, we are so far behind most countries that we can't even see them from where we are. Unless we make massive changes to the structure of youth soccer across our country, we will continue to fall even further behind.
Spare me the talk of needing a professional league in Canada, for either the men or the women. It is the tip of the iceberg, and the creation of any kind of professional league is never going to be viable until we begin to produce enough players talented enough to populate it.
And save your breath if you are going to put forth the argument that there are all kinds of players in Canada that are talented enough to play for the national team, but the CSA is simply ignoring them or failing to identify them - it is simply not true.
Sure, there are players out there who have talent, and there may be the odd one or two who slip through the cracks. But the difference between having talent and being able to represent your country at the international level in football is like the difference between a Honda and a Ferrari - the gap is enormous.
The truth of the matter is this: we can argue about preparation, character, tactics and team selection all we like. We can criticize the decisions made by the head coaches of both the men's and women's national teams until the cows come home. Until we make sweeping changes to the structure of youth player development in Canada, we will never be competitive at the international level.
The reasons for this are simple.
Players need to learn the core fundamentals required to play the game of soccer at the optimal ages for development. Like many other sports, for soccer players the key learning years are between the ages of 8-12. These years are sometimes referred to as the "Golden Years of Learning".
Unfortunately, the structure of youth soccer in Canada does not encourage learning during these years. Why not? The structure of youth soccer in Canada actively promotes winning as the measure of success during these key learning years.
Stop for a minute and think about it.
When a structure is based on the principle that in order to reach a higher competitive level you must win promotion, where do you think the emphasis will lie?
The emphasis will lie on winning.
And how do you win a game with a group of players who are ten years old? It is really quite simple.
You choose the players who are the biggest, strongest and fastest. You encourage your players to "boot" the ball down the field, and rely on the fact that the other team will not have the technical ability to get the ball out of their half, where your players will then use their physical advantage to overpower their opponents.
You do not focus on teaching those kids how to control a ball, how to turn with it, how to pass and receive a ball - because you don't have to. You win all the time with this strategy; since winning is seen as the only measure of success, your players' parents are happy because their little darlings are "successful".
The problem is you are actually doing those kids a disservice.
By not teaching them to be comfortable with a ball at their feet, to pass and receive it with both feet, to turn with it, you are dooming them to a lifetime of never being good enough. They will forever have to rely on their athleticism, and hope that they will forever be bigger, stronger and faster than their opposition.
And this is a primary reason why we cannot compete with the best in the world on either the men's or women's side of the game.
A wakeup call
At the highest level of the game, everyone is a supremely gifted athlete. When the athletic difference between players is minimal, technical brilliance wins out over size, strength and speed. No player in the world can move as fast as the ball, and when Canadian players reach the highest levels of the game, they cannot compete because they lack the core skills required for technical brilliance.
As disappointing as it was to witness, the failure of Canada's women's team in Germany could be the wakeup call that our country needed.
The notion that we need to restructure youth development in Canada has always been countered by critics, who point to the fact that it is only on the men's side of the game that we struggle to be competitive. They argue that the women are doing just fine, given their sixth place position in the FIFA women's world rankings.
That argument held weight because Canada has, in relative terms, been successful on the women's side.
But prior to Carolina Morace's arrival, much of Canada's success in the women's game came through physical dominance rather than technical ability. Now that other countries are beginning to produce players of real technical quality, we struggle to compete, as there is only so much that Morace can do with a group of players whose upbringing was all about athleticism. We will continue to struggle as more countries produce technically gifted players.
In my opinion, Carolina Morace has done an excellent job in turning around the fortunes of the women's national team. She has taken a group of players over the last two years and transformed them into a team who are capable of playing attractive soccer. Unfortunately, when up against teams who were technical in nature, like France, the Canadian upbringing in the game reared its ugly head.
When the pressure was on, against a technically superior opponent, Canada resorted to long-ball tactics, hoping for a Christine Sinclair miracle. It didn't happen, in large part because Canada could not compete with France on a technical level. They "panicked", to quote more than a few of the players, and resorted to relying on what they had always relied on prior to Morace's arrival - brute strength.
This is not a criticism of the ladies who proudly represented our country. They deserve your respect for pulling on that red jersey, with the entire country watching - then having the character to admit that they had underperformed.
Rather, this is a call to action.
If you are reading this, you are likely involved in the game of soccer in Canada at some level or another. If your child belongs to a soccer club, find out if its programs are being designed by a professional. If your child's club does not have a Technical Director or a Club Head Coach, find out why.
Would you send your child to a school that had no professional teachers? Of course not. So why should you send your child to a soccer club who have no professional coaches?
If you are a coach, answer this question: Why do you coach? Do you do it so that you can win a trophy and feel as though you have personally achieved success? Or do you do it so that you can educate your players on what is required to be a soccer player, and teach them the core skills that are required for a lifetime's enjoyment of the game? If you confirmed the former, and not the latter, you need to reconsider your motives for coaching.
I don't like to refer to youth soccer coaches as coaches at all - because there isn't a lot of coaching needed for youth soccer players.
I like to refer to youth soccer coaches as youth soccer teachers - because that is exactly what they are. They are supposed to teach their players the core skills required to play the game. Until those core skills are learned, winning and losing shouldn't even matter.
If you are on the Board of Directors at the club, district, or provincial level, be wise enough to accept that there are those involved in the game that have the knowledge and experience to know what this country needs to do in order to turn around its fortunes at every level of the game.
Those individuals have already created a document that outlines what needs to be done. It is called "Wellness to World Cup", the CSA's Long-Term Player Development document.
Rather than making technical development decisions that you are not qualified to make, be brave enough to empower those individuals who are. By all means, hold them accountable for their decisions - but be willing to let them implement the changes outlined in LTPD that our country so desperately needs.
The pain that was etched across the face of every member of Canada's Women's World Cup team was clear for all to see. It was a scene that has become all too familiar for those involved with our national teams.
If we don't make sweeping changes to our player development structure in Canada, it will be a scene that we be forced to see over and over again in the years ahead.
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