Gandhi once referred to the linear levels of leadership one has to endure and ultimately get through in order to be taken seriously and respected. His reference points? First, people ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you and only if you get through all three will they then respect your message.
After working now for six years in the CIS and seeing first-hand the system's huge potential, it has been a rather humbling experience knowing that as an organization we appear permanently stuck at the very first level. While there have been some improvements over the past 12 months (CSA finally acknowledged the CIS national championships on their website) it is still embarrassingly short of what our profile should be. After all, how can we continually celebrate our athletes who attend universities south of the border and not our student athletes who stay in Canada and by extension support something Canadian?
Last week the CSA released as a part of their Wellness to World Cup program the Long Term Player Development (LTPD) document.
A comprehensive analysis of the present state of the game in Canada particularly from the development of players and coaches, it is overall quite impressive in that it sets out a vision along with goals and objectives for how we can ultimately make a significant impact on the game in Canada. Obviously plenty of time, effort, and money has been invested in creating this compass for our rather (globally speaking), humble soccer industry. Nevertheless it is also about implementation. How do we really improve our coaching development? Improve the motivation of our young players to commit to high level training? Create opportunities for our young players to aspire to?
While there are no simple easy solutions the one area that provides potential is our university system, which until now has been ignored!
Three years ago along with Sheila Ann Newton I attended a CSA board of directors meeting to present an overview of the CIS soccer system and its potential for assisting in the development of the game in Canada. We were looking for support. If I were to do this again and I encountered what I received that day I would quite frankly walk out of the meeting, such was the ignorance, rudeness, and apathy towards our presentation - which was a simple request for coverage of the CIS system on the CSA website and funding of our World Student Games teams. The irony is that of the few generally interested people who were in attendance, Domenic Mastracci was one of them. His questions, thoughts and supportive statements showed me his professional approach and grasp of the issues were in touch with reality.
Considering what the LTPD outlines as the major issues that need to be addressed it would be unreasonable at this stage to dismiss the CIS soccer system. We offer coaching development, facilities, competitive environment for players, innovative thinkers, infrastructure, and national profile.
Rather than channeling increased registration levies into national team programs which is always a massive gamble in terms of ROI - this money should be garnered from corporate Canada and other business centres - they instead should be invested in areas that provide ongoing permanent sustainable benefits.
If the CSA for example were to channel $5 per player to the CIS system (ostensibly $4-million) with the mandate that all universities in order to claim a share of the wealth must have full-time coaches in place for both their men's and women's soccer programs, then automatically you would have a significant shift in the quality and level of play in the CIS. With the monies being invested in perpetuity for athletic scholarships - which the government in many instances will match - it will also provide a greater incentive for our young elite soccer players to stay at home rather than always pursuing an education south of the border.
Accessibility to facilities and infrastructure then become a part of the mix for the CSA to utilize. The thought of having 50-plus training centres across Canada is surely much more realistic than the five we currently have. Technical visionaries should be able to see the benefits of casting the net far wider.
The CIS soccer system is only one part of the equation for improving the game here in Canada. However because it has always been underfunded and ignored it is clearly punching below its weight and therefore cannot contribute in the way it should within the soccer industry in Canada. With the MLS beginning to take a foothold in Canada the timing is now right for integrating the CIS within our development system.