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HPL - Questions and Concerns

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Over the last few months, I have been following the process underway to develop the new High Performance League (HPL) in BC. TSS Academy, in theory, supports the creation of this new playing environment. Back in 2007, I wrote an article on the problems with our elite youth leagues (see: What's Wrong with Canadian Soccer?). In this article, I made suggestions regarding how our elite leagues should be organized, which is somewhat similar to what is being presented through this HPL proposal. I'm pleased that we seem to be heading in the right direction but we need to ensure that we get things right. That requires everyone to ask questions, some of which may make people uncomfortable but this is how ideas get shaped and ultimately turn into solutions. We don't want to simply re-purpose the system that's currently in place with a different name.

Player Identification vs Player Development

After reading the documents surrounding HPL, as well as recently submitted articles, there seems to be a fundamental assumption made about this league. The term "player development" gets bandied about whenever this league is mentioned - as if HPL itself is a player development program. I think it's important to point out, however, that there's a difference between "player development" and "player identification". By limiting this league to 8 teams in every age group and by removing the district boundaries, we are definitely ensuring that the top players will funnel into this league. In other words, it will be much easier to identify and select the top players. However, it's quite another thing to continue developing these players. A league does not magically develop players, nor do clubs necessarily. Coaches develop players. Coaches are ultimately the ones responsible for providing our young players with the technical and tactical ability to advance in this game. Coaches are also the ones who can help instil a passion for the game. So where will these coaches come from?

If there are 8 HPL clubs operating 5 age groups then we will require 80 qualified, experienced and sophisticated coaches in this province. This is critical in order for players to truly develop. We need to rid ourselves of this notion that as long as the best players are competing against each other that the development will simply take care of itself. With proposed player costs likely being in the $2000 to $2500 range per season, it's important that the quality of coaches is consistent across the clubs. Our US friends recognized their coaching deficiencies in this regard back in the mid 1990s and looked beyond their borders for coaches from abroad. How will this be overcome here?

Accountability

Another critical question surrounding this league is one of accountability. How will we ensure that there's a level of accountability attached to individual teams and their clubs? This accountability cannot be solely based on outcomes such as embracing the Long Term Player Development Model (Wellness to World Cup), embracing the Charter Club initiatives (whatever that is?), minimum coaching certification, facilities, game day presentation, etc. I am not saying that I have the answers here. Promotion/relegation is something that is used in the senior and professional leagues around the world. However, putting direct emphasis on game results is something that, philosophically, is difficult to institute as the main barometer of success/failure at the youth level. But is there any other way to objectively get accountability in this league?

The plan to allow a perpetual seat at the table and an entitlement to access this league is something that needs immediate attention. I keep reading in the HPL documents the need for criteria to be in place and yet no formal format is presented. Apologies to the Okanagan rep, the Island rep, likely Coquitlam Metro Ford, Abbotsford, Surrey United and 3 TBD entities, but if one of your teams comes 8th in a particular division then there should be some consequences. And these consequences should not be dealt with in the boardroom solely by a Board of Governors voting on what may amount to be subjective criteria.

Get Involved

This past weekend, the BCSA Board of Directors endorsed the HPL plan. Now begins the campaign leading up to the Special General Meeting on January 22nd 2011. Your club board and district boards have been elected to represent the individual player on decisions just like these. You have a voice and a vote in this regard. If you want some say in the matter then take the time to write a letter/email to these representatives. They will all be meeting to discuss how to move forward on this proposal. Don’t miss this opportunity to provide input. We cannot allow for just part of the job to get done here. The HPL needs to be accountable - it cannot be instituted with entitlements. Entitlements will only make our youth system complacent and we can't afford complacency.

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Colin Elmes
Managing Director
TSS Academy

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