Provincial soccer heads visit

Lucas Punkari

When looking over the schedule for the Ontario Soccer Association’s Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) consultation meetings, the Town of Fort Frances sticks out compared to places like Toronto and Ottawa.
But according to OSA president Ron Smale, coming to places like Fort Frances is important in making sure that needs of everyone involved in soccer in the province are met and looked after.
“The north has always been a concern for me since becoming president of the association in 2010,” noted Smale, who currently is in his second two-year term.
“When I was given the mandate after being elected OSA president, it became apparent to me that we very GTA-centric and that there were also tremendous opportunities to showcase athletes from the north.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time in my second term now as president in making sure that our communication continues to improve, as we know that in the past that we haven’t done a good job in servicing our members in the north,” he admitted.
Smale, who came to Fort Frances last Tuesday evening along with OSA chief technical officer Alex Chiet and executive director Lisa Beatty, has been travelling around the province for the last two weeks to discuss with those involved in local soccer programs about the ongoing phased-in implementation of LTPD, in addition to any other issues the organizations may be facing which the OSA can help with.
“So far it’s been great,” Chiet enthused. “The focus has been on getting out to the members and the membership to understand the plan and to also understand their local needs.
“As we go away and work on a provincial strategy, we are hearing the different needs from here to Ottawa, and we are doing everything we can to support the needs of the player,” he stressed.
Long-term player development, which falls under a mandate for all sports in Canada called long-term athlete development, is an initiative that comes down from the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and is being implemented across the country by provincial and territorial organizations.
The strategy, which is being phased in for the 2013 season, put far less emphasis on games and “winning” at the early development ages and focuses more on skill development and getting as many touches on the ball, which will be done in a variety of different ways, such as smaller fields and lesser players on the pitch at once depending on the age level.
“What were implementing here in Canada is taking what we have learned from the Spains and the Germanys and saying, ‘What are they doing that we’re not,’” Chiet explained.
“Those are the countries that we look to that have an established football culture, where player development both in recreation and in excellence levels are well-known and understood.
“It’s now a matter of making sure that what we implement works here and that it’s tailored for the people here in Canada,” he added.
In addition to explaining the upcoming changes in their approach, the three OSA reps also took questions and concerns from those on hand, which covered a variety of different issues.
“The message was very clear to me that we need to do a better job in delivering our programs and our services,” Smale said.
“We’ve heard that there are clearly barriers and that what may work for the GTA is not good for the north, and we are looking to tailor those existing rules and programs to meet those geographical needs,” he added.
“There were a few things that really hit home to us here in Fort Frances,” echoed Chiet.
“There is a lot more that we can do to service the needs of our membership when it comes to a shorter, more condensed season here, and to also put tools in the hands of the volunteers to help them with delivering soccer in a way that works for them,” he noted.
Last week’s visit to Fort Frances won’t be the only time Smale plans to be in Rainy River District as he hopes to visit the area once again next year to see the action that takes place during the course of the local soccer season.
“This is not going to be a one-time visit, I can guarantee that,” he vowed.
“I would like to take a couple of weeks next year to take a road tour of Northwestern Ontario to see the athletes who are taking part in the great game of soccer,” Smale added.