Whistler soccer adjusting to national development model 

New emphasis on skills development as rankings removed for U12 and younger

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANDREW MITCHELL - GAME ON The lack of scorekeeping, or the fact it was an exhibition game, didn't stop Whistler's U12 rep team from playing hard against Marpole on Sept. 8.
  • Photo by Andrew Mitchell
  • GAME ON The lack of scorekeeping, or the fact it was an exhibition game, didn't stop Whistler's U12 rep team from playing hard against Marpole on Sept. 8.

As Whistler's young soccer players kick their way into the fall competitive season, things are a little different for players at the Under 12 (U12) level and younger.

As you might have heard, younger teams across the province will no longer be keeping league standings or tournament standings, or keeping score in any official way. That includes tournaments as well.

The new policies originate at the top level via Canada Soccer and a new Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) model that emphasizes skills and participation over winning and losing.

It's a model that Philippe Melun, head coach for the Whistler Youth Soccer Club agrees with.

"We don't want to take the competition out of the game, because the kids, no matter what age they're playing at, they will always want to score more goals than the other team," he said. "What we really want is to take the competition out of the coaches. Some coaches are so focused on winning the league and finishing first... they want to play the big players, the strongest players, all the time.

"There's more of a focus on working on players (under the LTPD model) than winning the league. If you're always playing the strongest players at key positions you might win the games, but that doesn't make for having a lot of good players at the end of the day.

"One day some of the smaller kids are going to catch up in size and speed, but they won't have the experience or skills to play well. Maybe they won't play soccer anymore and will have moved on to something else."

As an example of what could be lost with a win-at-all-costs approach, Melun brought a photo of Lionel Messi of Argentina when he was a U12 to the WYSC's coaches meeting at the start of the season. Messi, considered to be one of the greatest players in the sport, was easily the shortest player on his youth team growing up but a new focus on skills development in South America ensured he was given a chance to develop as a player.

Melun said the South American programs, and the programs in Spain, changed everything in the sport.

"Spain changed the way soccer is played," said Melun. "In the past soccer used to be a physical game with strong players, and someone told Spain that if they wanted to win on the World Cup then they would need to work on skills because as players they were not very big. So that's what they started in Spain 15 years ago, working on skills. They took away league standings for younger age groups and started playing on a small field with small teams for the longest time they could. The result was all these small players that are very skilled and play beautifully, instead of kicking hard and running fast like in the past.

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