• Canadian coaching: The Alex Chiet interview

      Authorís note: Alex Chiet is the new chief technical officer of the Ontario Soccer Association.

      A recently arrived native of New Zealand, he discusses the many changes in coaching and player development now being implemented at the OSA Ė and similar problems he has already faced in his homeland.

      Itís a wide-ranging interview, but please stay with it to the end. Thereís a lot of useful information here.

      CSN: Canadaís been very much of a soccer island unto itself. Itís one of the very few countries that doesnít have its own professional soccer league, which thereís very good reasons for. When you came here, what was your perception of how business has been done here in the past?

      AC: Iím still putting that puzzle together. A big part of what Iím doing now is still listening and understanding. Every day, Iím still turning over things that give me a green light to understanding what happened. To capture it quickly, I suppose the words that come to mind would be fragmentation, disconnect, lack of unity and people pulling in a common direction, people who are after their own agendas rather than whatís good for the game. Those are the sorts of things Iíve seen, broadly, and Iím just trying to understand why and how thatís happening Ė and working on how we change that, because I think thatís one of the things that is holding the country back.

      CSN: This is a great period of change at the OSA, since Ron Smale has become the president here. Thereís been quite a shake-up here, and thereís been a lot of new directions taken. How would you characterize the direction the OSA is taking now?

      AC: I think itís positive. One of the big things that Ronís been championing and supporting is that the technical department drives the plan for change and where we need to go. Thereís a board meeting coming up in September where Iíll be pitching to them a plan for long-term player development Ė an initial plan over the next twelve months. From what I understand, that hasnít always been the case. The technical side hasnít guided decisions. I think itís great weíre being given that opportunity, and now itís a matter of making informed decisions, listening to the right people and doing consultations to take things in the right direction.

      CSN: The angle weíre focusing on right now in these stories is coaching development, and the fact that there are essentially no Canadian-trained professional coaches out there Ė aside, perhaps, from the Montreal Impact, and they get fired every June anyway. Obviously, coaches are a huge part of player development. What is the vision now, at the OSA, for developing coaches who can help these kids become flourishing professional soccer players?

      AC: Iíll go wide, and then come back to coaching. Obviously, coach development and player development are in correlation, okay? Without one, you donít have the other. Itís critical that we get coach development right. Weíve put together an advisory technical council on how we implement long term player development (LTPD), because itís bigger than just coaching; itís bigger than the competitive structure. Weíre looking at a holistic approach, taking into consideration referee development, coach development, player development, facilities, infrastructure, everything like that. Then out of those meetings, we identified three priorities in the short term. One being education Ė communication about what it is, because thereís still a lot of unawareness out there about LTPD is. Two being a vision and a competitive structure thatís going to meet the needs, and three being coaching. Coaching is one of the priorities for us, moving forward. Itís one area where youíre going to see a lot of change in the next twelve months. First and foremost, this new coaching curriculum thatís coming down from the CSA. Are you familiar with the new direction in coaching and what will be happening there?

      CSN: Letís assume that our readers arenít, and that thatís going to be the next stop in this series.

      AC: Okay, so Ö. Basically, in regards to long term player development, the whole coaching pathway is being reshaped to fit the philosophy. Rewriting content, looking at how itís delivered, the approach, and making sure itís appropriate and in line with best practice around the world. The first step in that direction is 2012, where within Ontario thereíll be four new modules: Active Start, FUNdamentals, Learning to Train and Active for Life.

      CSN: Thatís all right out of the CSAís Wellness to World Cup plan?

      AC: Correct. So, physical literacy coaching modules. Thereís no certification. Itís more come, go through an education process more targeted at, I suppose, going on towards competitive coaching. Whatís great about this stuff is now weíre giving coaching materials that are not just vertical progression. Itís horizontal and vertical, specific to each development stage that coaches will be working with. So if youíre with kids that are 4-6 at the start, these are the sorts of things you need to be reinforcing with players in this environment. Itís all specific to the different development stages that players go through Ė that coaches need to be aware of.

      CSN: For a concrete example, Jason de Vos is always saying weíre wasting Ė weíre hugely wasting Ė a chance, when the kids are very young, when theyíre entering puberty, when theyíre in their early teen years, to ground them in the fundamental physical training needed to become professional soccer players. Obviously, most of them wonít, but the players we have who will still go through that stage, and are still Ė he feels Ė being coached inadequately, and a lot of people agree with him.

      AC: Correct. I completely agree. And part of that is the competitive structure, which is driving the approach of coaches. But part of that is also the coaching curriculum, which hasnít been addressing the needs of players as they progress. So what LTPD is is that as children develop, just like in an educational setting, they have windows of opportunity where they need to get certain learning. That isnít being recognized and worked on, and that deprives a child of the opportunity to reach their potential. So itís critical that we get the right information to them at the right stage.

      CSN: Alex, what is the population of New Zealand?

      AC: Four million.

      CSN: Equal to the greater Toronto area, essentially.

      AC: Correct.

      CSN: How many professional soccer clubs?

      AC: We have a similar situation to Canada, where we have one professional team that plays in the A-League in Australia.

      CSN: Okay, so the two nations have some very similar problems. New Zealand is a narrow country and a long and mountainous country, so they have geographical challenges as well. What have they done there that your experience of is going to be useful here?

      AC: Thereís a lot of synergy between whatís happening in the two countries. Obviously different scale, and the populationís different. In regard to that, thereís been a whole new approach and philosophy coaching thatís been introduced that Iíve been part of. This is whatís now happening here with LTPD and the new coaching courses. Previously, my understanding is that New Zealand and other countries have had a coaching course Ė itís an ex-player, a qualified player, someone thatís been through the trenches and has a wonderful understanding of the game. So you take a course, this is what you do, and off you go, go do it. But thereís a shift now. We need that information, but the shift is towards the how. How do you understand the player? The needs of the player? The environment of the player? So I suppose the big experience that Iíve been though in New Zealand is shifting that philosophy, and people understanding that thereís a more beneficial way to learn to affect whatís going on. Because as a coach, you donít make decisions out on the field. The player does. You can shape and mold that environment, but ultimately the player needs to be involved in the learning process.

      CSN: One of the things that concerns me Ė since weíre talking long term Ė is that in Canada we still have that real shortage of professional clubs. There will be, therefore, a shortage of Canadian coaches who can even get those jobs at all. Right now, a lot of them go to the Aron Winters and the Bob de Klerks, so itís difficult to break through. Similar problem in New Zealand, I would think?

      AC: Well, obviously thereís professional coaches at the various age-group levels, and then thereís one professional team. And the national menís coach is also the coach of the Phoenix, which is the professional team! I think you have to look at what youíre trying to develop Ė and how Ė and trying to accelerate and fast-track looking at personal growth and development, targeting people, sufficient planning and having a vested interest in their development, getting them to other places to experience different environments, and then looking at opportunities for them within the province and nationally. I think thatís the only way that people are going to grow and learn. Yes, we need to develop more Canadian coaches that understand the culture and the people. Part of that is gathering other experiences from other parts of the world, and bringing that back into the solutions here.

      CSN: Now this is being modeled, obviously, on the CSAís Wellness to World Cup plan, which is the first national vision weíve really had in a while. A lot of the things that have happened in Canada in the last ten years have really happened because a professional team arrived, or a pro team started an academy, or an academy forced its way into being recognized Ė in other words, without a lot of direction or leadership from above. TFC Academy is a factor, Montreal and Vancouver are doing this, too. Iím sure FC Edmonton will do this as well at some point, if they stick around. Does the OSA run the risk of being pushed out of the main plot-line by the efforts that are being taken by professional clubs and private academies?

      AC: I suppose thereís a risk, but our approach to things at the moment, in the planning and conceptual stages Ė thereís always going to be a professional element of the game, but our vision is for the professional and amateur sides of the game to work hand-in-hand. Thereís so much that weíre doing thatís complementary to what theyíre trying to achieve. If we can form closer relationships and understand what each otherís doing for our mutual benefit, I think thereís definitely a place to work closer together rather than working against each other. Weíve got this huge base of participation, which weíve got to do a much better job of educating and training, and if we can get that right Ė which is going to be hard work Ė thereís some really positive signs that weíre moving in the right direction, that the OSA boardís prepared to back the technical direction and make the changes that are required.

      CSN: I think the fear from out here is that obviously the majority Ė the vast majority Ė of soccer in Canada is club soccer, amateur soccer, recreational you can even call it. The significant majority of coaches we develop are obviously going to go that way. And as they move toward their Canadian A-licences, as they move towards working with the national teams Ė letís face it: international menís soccer at the top level is a professional game. They are professional players, they have careers, they play at a professional level and they have professional expectations. Thatís the void Iím afraid that weíre not filling when we donít have Canadian coaches out there in the global professional game.

      AC: So you think thereís just a huge gap in the transition between amateur coaches to international ones, and we canít bring enough through to get that experience?

      CSN: Or how long itís going to take, given the practical reality of the shortage of professional teams in Canada.

      AC: Yeah. Look, thereís some obvious challenges there. But I think we can only take a glass-half-full approach, look at what weíve got, and try to put plans and strategies in place to address those things. The things that weíre talking about, the things that weíre working on, will help create more professional paid positions in the game Ė maybe not at the international level, but within a development level. Yes, you need professional elite coaches, but you also need different coaches at each development level. We need to raise the standards and expectations Ė and qualifications Ė of people that are working with the players of the future.

      CSN: We also have people who have come from other countries, with professional coaching experience, and some of them have told me theyíre frustrated because they feel like the doors arenít open here. And part of it is the old Old Boys Club at the CSA, which is fading away. But I think thereís a real frustration among people who already have A-licences from various other places in the world that there hasnít been a role for them. How do we fix that?

      AC: I think thatís part of the technical qualifications Ė ensuring that we recognize and acknowledge qualifications from other places. Itís all legitimate. There are things that we need to look at in more detail, and weíre looking into ways of doing that. But I also think some of the frustrations have been from these coaches, and some Iíve talked to as well, is that all the things that weíre now changing have been in place for thirteen-plus years, and for coaches coming to the system and the way things have been has been frustrating. They probably found it very annoying that things were done the ways they were. With that all changing, thereíll be more opportunities for these people. Theyíll already be a few steps ahead. They have a technical expertise that our kids need to benefit from.

      CSN: Let me ask you, also: The traditional route in Canada for player development has been the provincial teams. This always struck me as very strange, because if you just take Southern Ontario, from Windsor to the edge of the suburbs of Montreal, weíre talking about an area the size of Great Britain. And thatís a place where you have literally hundreds of professional soccer teams. Moving forward, with academies now on the rise, with Toronto FC Academy which is obviously a professional environment, is Ontarioís provincial team going to continue to be the focus of player development as far as the OSA is concerned?

      AC: Weíre looking at all these things now. Weíre looking at LTPD implementation and what will be needed in the future. Competitive structure is one of those things Ė for every player. When we change things, it will change the format of what is happening, which means there will need to be changes to co-ordinate whatís happening. We know there are challenges with the provincial program currently, in regard to access due to geography, narrowing the number of players too soon, talent exclusion. One thing I will say, though, is at the moment, at the top end of things, weíve just got complete fragmentation and disconnection. Thereís TFC, thereís CSL, thereís academies, thereís the provincial program Ė all these different providers, all basically working in opposition to each other, rather than working together. We have a small percentage of talent, and we really need to come together at the top end as well, to understand whatís best for the player. It may be thereís a first choice, a second choice, a third choice. How we fix it is a big challenge, because of all the different business models in play. But at the end of the day, whatís most important is the player.

      CSN: Toronto FC, for example, as a professional club, is doing what ambitious professional clubs do all over the world Ė trying to set up an academy and bring their own players in, work them into their system and have them there when they need them. It seems to me itís going to be hard to alter that, or ask them to change that.

      AC: Weíve had discussions, and weíre bound to be having more. Thereís many ways that we can work together, and if we can change things and do things in a more professional way Ė which is what weíre working toward Ė itís only going to benefit what they are trying to do. And it might mean that they can work with us even more directly. These are the things we need to get around a table and discuss.

      CSN: Do you look out on that giant field at OSA headquarters in Vaughan sometimes, and see kids in their early teens or young children, and wonder ďIs what Iím doing here today going to help one or two of those kids play in a World Cup someday?Ē

      AC: Oh, definitely. Itís what weíre all here for Ė working for the children, ensuring that the problems I experienced as a player in New Zealand, that every Canadian experienced in the previous structures, arenít there. A parent bringing a player to a club at five or six years old should know thereís a clear pathway, and that we know what needs to be done. And given the right opportunity, players will progress rather than there being barriers and blockages along the way. Weíve got to come together, and work together on a solution, rather than working against each other. And thatís what drives what weíre trying to achieve.

      Also in this series:

      - Charlie Cuzzetto interview
      - Frank Yallop interview
      - Ron Davidson interview
      - Rafael Carbajal's vision
      - Some preliminaries
      - Canadian coaching: a new CSN investigation
      Comments 6 Comments
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Possible to get audio versions of these interviews Ben?

        They're a beast to read, albeit interesting.
      1. Ben Knight's Avatar
        Ben Knight -
        No. The tape is far from high-quality, and I've got no way to load it anyway. I believe the story is far more "on the record" written out like this. Also, I'm a written-word guy, so this is always how I prefer to work.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        if you don't face the "beast", you won't learn anything beyond the superficial - life can't be explained in 140 words and intelligence can't be found on facebook
      1. bhatti4200's Avatar
        bhatti4200 -
        I just look at this noe > The Alex Chiet interview
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Please talk to someone about the development of women's soccer in Canada as none of these people have an interest or clue.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Is this the idiot who wants to have kids play without an actual ball?
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