Friday, 17 October 2014

A successful "mega-club"?

On another of my tangential, non-news postings, earlier this week, a friend of mine pointed out a recent excellent article on SoccerAmerica asking if there was a place for small clubs in the USA. As a quick summary, that article states that, yes there is a place, but at a certain point, those clubs will need to either combine or affiliate with another club to ensure the proper levels of development and standards.

As anything related to soccer here in Canada often does, this led to a discussion about how it could, would, and should apply up here in the so-called "frozen north". The big issues that arose were specifically that there are different levels of services expected between smaller and larger clubs and that the political and economic reasons for larger clubs tend to be outweighed by their lack of developmental benefits. Typically, the larger a club, the more inefficient it is and the oversight and accountability becomes more difficult to manage, much like we often see here in Ontario with the OSA↣District↣Club chain.

Here in the Greater Kingston area, there are four large clubs, and a number of smaller ones that fall under the OSA structure. The four main clubs are Cataraqui Clippers Soccer Club (CCSC), Kingston United Soccer Club (KUSC), Greater Kingston Senior Soccer Association (GKSSA - men's), and Kingston Women's Soccer Club (KWSC). While the two adult clubs focus exclusively on adult recreational play (the equivalent of the old level 7 "house league"), the two youth clubs spread themselves between recreational play and competitive play in the OSA's pyramid of play, right up to the League1 Ontario level for the Clippers.

While there have been suggestions of merges on and off between various clubs in the area over the past several years, as far as I know, there has never been a serious discussion between any of them about actually attempting to implement such a strategy. During this time, I've done a lot of reading on various forums and groups discussing the Long Term Player Development (LTPD) implementation, standards of training, and so forth. This combined with some discussion along the way with those who have far more knowledge than me of both the system and player development has led me to the basic designs of how an umbrella club might work in the Kingston area to best develop players to compete at the highest levels possible (whether university level or even professionally).

The key to such a design is understanding that the club needs to offer a multi-stream environment in order to be successful. Some players want to develop and compete at those high levels while others simply want to play the game with their friends. When players get to the adult ages, those priorities change even further, depending on skill level, family situations, and time available.
An overview of the multi-stream concept in club organization terms
With these basic streams, a player would join the club at an early age, join a "little kickers" type of program, then as they develop to U8 level (or thereabouts), they would move into either higher level development streams or recreational streams, depending on the player's aptitude and interest levels. Players would not be locked into a single stream, but would be able to move from one to the other, as players develop at different ages, and sometimes gain or lose interest in playing at the level they are at.
How a player might move through the full club

Once a player has moved into one of the streams, they would work through that stream toward the "end" (the "soccer for life" bit described by the Canadian Soccer Association). Of course, as noted, players could move between streams, whether from the recreational to the high level development, or even to the OPDL group, depending on their aptitude, desire, and commitment.

So, how is this different from your typical club that potentially provides all of this already to a player? First off, there would be a technical advisory board that works together to oversee all of the streams. Of course, this is not something that a single technical director or club head coach could even dream of handling. As such, there would be a "technical lead" for each step along the way, all of whom work together on the technical advisory board, which would be led by the club's technical director.

At the youth development stage, someone who excels at working with kids between the ages of three and seven would lead the way into the upper levels of the club. As we all know, we learn differently at varying ages. When I was three, I had the attention span of a gnat, games were good, and if I was playing for more than 30-45 minutes in a structured activity, I often managed to quickly find the monkey bars or sandbox. That's no different from kids of that age now. As such, they need someone trained to design a curriculum and be (and this is the most important part) able to teach it in such a way that it engages them and teaches them the skills that they'll need come the next level of their development.

That next major step is the U8-U12 grouping. I've (intentionally) lumped that all in to one U8-U18 grouping above, because the overall portion of these ages at the high level development and recreational levels is the same, simply with different things taught at different levels (as per the CSA and OSA curriculum). There would be a technical lead for each of these two levels, both with an eye to seeing who might benefit from changing from one stream to another. These two leads, along with the OPDL/League1 technical lead, would be typically working as a team, interacting with each other and moving back and forth between the two groups to ensure that as many players as possible at playing at the level best suited to them.

As noted, there would also be a technical lead for the ODPL group (which would eventually culminate in the League1 teams), and this lead would rely on the high level and recreational leads to find the appropriate players to fit their system.

So, how does this improve on things? First off, there's far more focus on advancement of the player, and far less on advancement of a "team". Secondly, there's a focus on building a consistent system and style of play across the entire club. Finally, there's no more competing with other groups for players and teams to compete.

Right now, the district directs which club will field what age levels in district and regional competition, and thus each club must compete for players of those age levels, not all of whom have played similar systems and styles of play (for example, one club may focus on ball control and fast passes, similar to Pep Gardiola Barcelona teams, while another may focus on defending and counter attacks similar to the Jose Mourinho Chelsea teams).

The next big thing to address is the inefficiencies in the system and this is where things start getting a bit more complicated. In the initial diagram above, there is a top level board of directors for the entire club, and they oversee the entire club structure. Underneath that board, each major stream would have a small group of directors or admins that would oversee the stream in terms of budgeting, scheduling, and so forth. The various financial people for each stream would get together on a financial committee and compile the budgets to present to the club board, the schedulers would work together, and so forth. In essence, each stream would almost be its own "sub-club" of the larger club, with its own standards, levels of service, budgets, and so forth, but there would be a single club identity and a single direction forward.

The main point of failure in such a venture is, as often seems to be the case in youth soccer these days, when adult ego, especially on the administrative side of things, gets in the way. Parent egos are fairly easily handled by the multi-tier system. The technical leads of each stream would be working together to determine the best places for a player to develop, even if that means practicing with a high level development group, but playing with the recreational group in order to increase playing time and opportunity. As long as the technical leads can work together without ego getting in the way – because the end goal should be developing players that can compete at the top levels... not putting together a U16 team that can win a trophy locally but is cannot compete with anyone else.

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