Theo ten Caat
The Netherlands | July 2021
Club culture growth and development and how politics destroy this lifeline
We have organized soccer trials for some of the excellent players that have participated in our DutchCan soccer camps. For those trials, we put together a full two-week schedule in which we visited the clubs of FC Groningen, FC Emmen and FC Twente to participate in training sessions and games. During these matches, the only difference in quality shown between the Dutch and Canadian players was the tactical part of the game. The players showed difficulties on how to strategically play as an individual in a team in both defending and attacking. As I pointed out once: the young kids I trained in Canada are as good as the Dutch pupils, which means that tactical development is shortcoming between the 15-19 years of age.
In the larger socio-cultural context of Canada and the rest of North America,the sports culture is not predominantly pivoting around soccer, but it is more diversified. Europe and South America, on the other hand, have the game of soccer deeply rooted in their cultures. A shift towards soccer would take decades, if at all possible (or desirable). Subsequently, the organisation of soccer lacks a culturally embedded footing, limiting the opportunities for children to play soccer in an organised setting. One example is that it is rather expensive, which is a barrier to trying soccer in the first place. So parents, especially with more children, need a considerable budget to let their kids play organized soccer, to train and play over an entire season.
Does Canadian soccer have to feel bad about this and is Canada the only country who has this challenge? No. Running in circles happens in Europe as well. There is a saying ‘If you do what you do, you get what you got’. So let's learn from day to day situations by repeating day to day analysis and over time, establish in Canada a great foundation for the young talented soccer players, so they can continue to develop themselves the best they can.
Running in circles is the worst thing to do as a soccer player: it won’t lead you anywhere, you'll get tired and after a while you become predictable. In organizations you can have a similar situation: a lack of structure, vision, tactics, culture, ineffective cooperation and working together as one unit.
Essentially, youth soccer is an individual sport as every person has their own development curve on all aspects of soccer. As a coach, what you invest and what you’ll see is a dynamic process and expectations should therefore be adjustable, sometimes even between sessions when you analyze the behavior of the players on and off the pitch. It is this flexibility that I believe is missing in the system of Canadian youth soccer coaching and what it could work on.
Blinded by tunnel vision, the decade old system constructed a round cage and the coaches serve to maintain it. Indeed, the only thing that is then left to do is going around the perimeter and patrol the bars - the players running closely after. Sometimes, an outside hand reaches through the bars, grabs one tightly and pulls the player out. Sometimes this hand flew in from the Netherlands.By working together with coaches and clubs, we want to provide an effective learning environment revolving around the cross-seasonal vertical soccer line (see previous blog), so all players benefit over the years when they are attending their training and playing their games at and for these clubs.
Change of management can lead to change in vision and culture. I will give an example to clear things up: FC Twente, my favourite team in the Netherlands that I have supported since I knew about soccer and where I played and coached for nearly two decades. The club’s character and culture are rapidly disappearing as people from outside enter from the top of the management pyramid. The lifeline, the youth academy, the character of the club and vision should instead be protected by club icons. At FC Twente, the last few years it's been a coming and going at the club of management, coaches and players. This constant refreshing of familiar faces takes away the club character. We see it happen before our noses and no action is taken.
The same story goes for the Youth department of FC Twente, now known as the FC Twente/Heracles Almelo Youth Academy. It started as an economic challenge, for which two professional organizations decided to work together to secure financial stability. This meant two different cultures merged, and so did two different ways of playing the game, two different visions and two different club spirits. This made it nearly impossible to work according to one solidified vertical soccer line and produce the loyal icons you want representing your club in the future.
[reconsider] Turning individuals into team players, that's what professional clubs pursue in their academy. In addition, I also truly believe that the technical director and the head of the youth department must be close friends that speak with one voice, look through the same eyes and truly commit to the vertical line of the youth academy. Making comments about the structure and organization of a club also means talking about the people in charge. I am not discrediting their qualities, they all have done good work in the past at other professional clubs, but I don't believe this could happen at any other club who is proud of their own culture, vision and character.
Professional soccer is business, as all sports are these days. Economic growth is the first thought on the minds of the directors board or the owner, which comes down to the first team winning three points. Without a doubt, it all revolves around the success of the first team. The immense suporter community only wants triumph for the first team and they deserve this, but they might judge this situation if they are aware of the sacrifice.
The introduction of the big clubs in the European Soccer League planted the first seed. Now you see millionaires from all over the world using soccer clubs as an investment, not as a sport where losing is an equally essential part of the game. No, these investors are driven only by securing the three-pointer, and so short term solutions prevail long term durability: careers are aborted, players are bought and sold like stocks and sacking coaches between seasons is the new normal. All this at the cost of what the game is all about: winning AND losing. Doesn’t losing provide the contrast needed to enjoy the victory?
We cheer when we are happy, we cheer louder when we cry for a lost game. We used to be addicted to the tension before and the relief after the game. For many, this rhythm used to be part of life. For others, even the most important thing in the world. So to the ESL I say: you do your first step and organise a closed league with all the benefits and establish a lifeline for the supporters all over the world. Why do you think we all loved Diego Armando Maradona, I did!
Next time my complete version and expectation about ESL will create a place in world soccer.
The Cat is Chasing His Own Tail, but ten Caat is not.
Theo ten Caat
Theo ten Caat
The Netherlands | 27-1-2021
Blog 1: The Cat is chasing its own tail
My first experience with Canadian Soccer in 2012 was an astonishing event. I was invited to lead a soccer-camp in North Scarborough (Ontario) in the summer of 2012 with Dutch Connections. I had prepared all the training sessions back home in The Netherlands, as I knew the amount of soccer players attending and the age-groups they were in.
So you think: what can go wrong?
Well actually nothing by Canadian standards, but from my Dutch experience and perspective and coming with high expectations, I actually arrived in a different culture and a lot of unexpected issues happened during the camp.
For me improvisation was the key word, as my colleague trainers were asking me continuously what to do and what the organization should be, both on and off the pitch as I had all organization in details worked out in Holland, which is of course logical, because I am a professional and the coaches had to learn a lot in setting up training organization and the methodical steps to make to improve the context of the learning process.
This Canadian Soccer experience and the knowledge I learned from that week, trigged me as a Dutch Trainer/Coach to organize soccer-camps in Canada, because there is enough talent in Canada,
So I decided to start a soccer experience, together with Paul Okumu, which I met during this first camp and together we started DutchCan Soccer a few years later.
Coming back to Toronto, four years later, to lead our soccer camp, I noticed that nothing had changed. Facilities where difficult to organize, improvisations had to be done, which in my case wasn't that hard to handle at the training ground. We had to pitch a tent for registrations and we had to buy lunch for the kids sometimes, even bottles of water for some as they weren't prepared.
But we had fun, and the kids where really motivated in the training sessions. We had great laughs with both the kids and their parents, but it was hard work to turn the camp into the success I was looking for, however the compliments we received after, where really nice as the players and parents liked the style of the training-camp and I liked the mentality from the players and coaches on the field.
What I noticed during those weeks was that the younger players had a lot of talent, were technically well and had a good mentality. The older group, technically promising but I noticed a lack of tactical knowledge. So the development was in general good or excellent in their younger years, when they are training mostly by themselves while playing soccer the way kids do. However in the years that follow and kids turn into young man and the coach starts to embed more structure in the training sessions, the development seems to come to an hold, so from my point of view the fallout, meaning, progress in the players development in their later stage of their youth career was minimize.
The only reason I can come up with is the environment of Canadian soccer. With this I mean: Organization of the Canadian soccer association, organizations of the clubs, lack of facilities, the quality of the coaches and therefore the quality of the training sessions. They just don't get the training sessions the players require in order to develop as much as their talent is asking.
The difficult part of training talented players is how to challenge them in. even in a single session, how to work with resistances during one training-session. Which step for the coach to take, so the players experience challenges to solve a soccer problem and therefore they have to improvise on a cognitive base. Its the eye and knowhow of the coach to improve the knowledge of the players during training-sessions towards an higher level. Basically, what is good for today has to be better tomorrow.
So over the years when I visited Canada more often I came to realize that soccer is basically running into circles.
Unfortunately, as the technical- and mentally soccer qualities are comparable with Dutch kids, the development of all the young talent in Canada in their juveniles years, comes to a stalemate in this older age group. The tactical part of the game is key in Canadian soccer. This is what you have to focus on in Canada, which isn't really too difficult.
First, what should change to get this problem sorted out is improving the organization of soccer, in organization of the association, structure of the league, structure and facilities of the clubs and the quality of the coaches has to be on higher standards.
Second, the way of thinking of the clubs. Aim for a structured organization, get excellent training facilities with dressing rooms, clubhouse, just get the basic right, be strict on attending the training grounds. The setup has to change. The quality of the coaches, give them opportunities to improve and they have to remain a longer period with the clubs. From what I have observed, they seem to come and go.
Third, you have to create your own soccer culture at your club to become solid and acquainted with a certain way off thinking on how to train and develop your players, throughout all age groups. This line as to be clear and strictly taken as a tool. It is the lifeline in the club, so the kids develop with structure and strategy. They learn to play in an established system, both in training and in games, from age five towards age eighteen.
Only then the young and talented soccer players will be able to capture opportunity to pull the best out of themselves and continue developing as they grow older.
I call this, “The Vertical Soccer Line” in Soccer Development, from the youngest to the oldest, training and coaching the kids in the same system and organization over the years, expectations are clear for the players, the mentality will grow in the same direction and development will increase during this long planning system.
Hopefully our DutchCan friendship with players, parents, coaches and clubs will benefit from it.
Our connection with AJAX Soccer Club and Wrexford Soccer Club, are the first possibilities and could be a start, which will make possible what we should deliver in the near future for the players, coaches and clubs involved, a good education environment with fun, a learning environment and organize “The Vertical Soccer line” in the club so all players benefit over the years has they are attending their training and games at the clubs.
Do you think its a Canadian problem, no its happening in many places, but thats a topic I will point out in my next contribution.
“The Cat is Chasing his Own Tail, but ten Caat is not”.