Ron Davidson was OSL coach of the year for 2009, and followed that up with CSL coach of the year honours in 2010 – all for his stellar work with his former club, Hamilton Croatia.
Davidson makes plain the differences between developing players – and developing professionals.
Thanks to Ben Rycroft, for this interview which appeared on the July 8 edition of “It’s Called Football.”
CSN: You’ve coached at the OSA and CSL levels, and have been awarded with coach of the year at both those levels, in 2009 and 2010. What we’re trying to get at right now is why Canadian soccer isn’t developing more professional-level coaches. Where are the links breaking down, and what does Canada need to do to start building better coaching pathways, so we can start developing better local coaches?
RD: I think one of the main things, definitely, is that coach education needs to increase. If there’s only one course here, and coaches don’t have the ability to make it on those certain dates, then they have to wait another year. And a year gone past without any further development is a year lost. So definitely the CSA and OSA need to increase the coach education that is available to coaches. And also look at other systems around the world that are working, and maybe send some coaches to those systems, to monitor how they’re doing things, and develop that program within our own country.
CSN: One of the things we’re continuing to hear is that there’s a major difference between developing youth players and developing professional players. Those who are making the jump, a lot of times, look to go overseas. So they go to Italy, or they’ll go to Spain to try and learn their pathways. Can you accentuate the differences between coaching youth and coaching professional players, and why that’s such a jump?
RD: It’s a vast difference. When you’re coaching youth players, you’re actually developing them, depending on what age you get the kids at. If we say we take an eight-year-old, 10-year old, 12-year old, you’re developing them from the basics, right through the entire coaching manual, if you want to call it that. When you enter into the professional game, and you’re working with senior players, they’re already developed. You’re coaching more of an organized structure. Organizing the players, systems, knowing the other team – it’s a completely different path that you’re looking at. Players that come to you at senior level pretty much are developed. If you look at the professional game in the U.K. or Europe, at Manchester United, Alex Ferguson doesn’t buy players that he has to develop. They’re already developed. They just have to work in his system. So it’s a big difference.
CSN: Does part of our development shortcomings at the coaching end, as well as on the youth end, begin with the fact that outside a few prominent youth clubs, most of youth soccer is run by volunteers in this country? If that’s so, how do we go about changing those things, and putting in more of a professional environment?
RD: I think it all leads back to the one thing, called money. Money has to be invested back in the game – and a lot of money. You can look at south of the border, as a good example. They definitely invested in the game after they hosted the World Cup. It paid dividends for them. So money definitely has to go into the game, to develop coaches and restructure the entire system, because it is not working.
CSN: It’s clearly not working right now. We’ve been looking for numerous people to be able to stand up and represent Canadian coaches, and they’re few and far between. What would you like the CSA to do? What would you like the OSA to do specifically, aside from fund coaching programs? I mean, money is the end-all, be-all in this sport, but unfortunately Canadian soccer isn’t blessed with that. Are there other things the organizing bodies can do in the interim, until they are able to get corporate partnerships to help develop coaching and youth coaching along those pathways?
RD: The CSA and OSA are limited in what they can do with their funding. I think you have to go and look at the youth clubs as well. As an example, the large clubs that have a lot of revenue should be doing greater coach development. Maybe they can work along, as well, with the OSA and CSA to help the situation in terms of funding. Definitely, the CSA needs to restructure, and look at the coaching education program. Coaches within the country here – there was one question that came up: “Why are there not enough coaches working in Europe?” There are an awful lot of coaches over there that are superior in qualifications and knowledge of the game. You’re asking a coach from Canada to go over and, let’s say, coach in the English Championship. Do the coaches from over here know the players that are available to them? Do they know the system? And the answer is no. No. So that is one of the reasons why there are not a lot of Canadian coaches getting an education in Europe, because we just don’t know the system over there. We need to build an internal system here, in terms of a professional league. That really needs to happen, and it would have to be a D-2 sanctioned league.
CSN: You believe that the D-2 sanctioned league here in Canada would, in fact, help to develop the coaches that are now sort of floundering in the youth ranks?
RD: Absolutely. Absolutely. You’re going to be exposed to some imported players. You’ll be exposed to some coaches coming in that you can learn from. And you’re competing against a higher level of competition, so you can only learn from that. It definitely has to be D-2 and not D-3.
CSN: Why is that the major difference for you? Because D-3 doesn’t have as many import players or is there another reason?
RD: The D-3 league, in terms of the CSL is, for all you want to push professional, it really is a semi-professional league. There’s some good players and good coaches in the league, but it is definitely semi-professional. You want to get into D-2, where the players are full-time, and they’re training every day. That can only help the player and help the coach develop the game – and the youth, as well. The systems around the world seem to work. That being, you have your professional team, you have your reserve team, your youth team and your development academy. That seems to work in Spain, England, Italy, South America. So we need not to be anything different. We can be the same as them, because that’s what’s working.
CSN: Right now, the OSA is undertaking a number of efforts to transform the way we develop youth and soccer in this province. One of the main efforts is to eliminate promotion and relegation from the youth ranks of Ontario football. That’s something that has been met with great discussion over the last little while. Can you give us your take on that? Is it beneficial to the long-term development of youth players in this country to eliminate promotion and relegation within those ranks, or is it something that fosters competitive spirit, and is part of the sport?
RD: I would have to agree with the OSA on that. It’s a positive step. There’s too much emphasis here on the kids winning, and coaches stacking their teams, and then they fall out with the club and go to another club, and take all those players with them. That’s not developing the game. That’s a selfish decision for the coach. So I do agree with what the OSA hopefully will implement. You don’t need promotion and relegation. We need to develop our kids. And it’s not developing a 15, 16, 17-year-old. We should be developing and starting a serious program from eight years old – like everywhere else in the world – and taking away the promotion and relegation.
CSN: If you can just expand on the promotion-relegation argument: if you could identify the factors of why that’s actually detrimental to the development of youth players?
RD: At one point I said one coach will just go and stack his team, and you’re playing against weaker opposition. You’re not being challenged, which means you’re not developing. You’re dominating, and that’s not good for the sport. The players are not developing doing that. The development program where – even if you tier it, like tier one, tier two, tier three – something like that where not every kid and player is going to have the same ability, but at least when all tier-ones are playing, you’ll have a competitive environment. And that’s what kids learn from. They don’t learn by winning 10-0.
CSN: Another thing that’s been brought up of late, in terms of turning this into a more professional environment, was the idea that clubs who develop players, if a player wants to leave and go on, that the club should have to be paid a transfer fee, and that would in some way help prevent the constant movement. What do you think of that as a concept for youth sport?
RD: I agree with it. I think if a club has a kid from nine or 10 years old until the time they’re 15 and they move on, and they spend a lot of time and money developing that player, and it’s like anywhere else in the world … again we come back to that point. I don’t know if it’s a transfer fee other than a development fee. That could be worked out, and would have to be set in structure. It’s difficult to sell a youth player from a youth club to a pro club, and get a fee for it. So maybe it’s a development fee – or an ongoing fee, where that player is still property of the youth club. I know it may sound a bit far-fetched, but in Europe and the U.K., all these players – 14, 15 years old – they already have agents. If the player is transferred somewhere, that agent takes care of that, and the youth club that developed them gets something back.
CSN: What would a fee like that be? Obviously the numbers will be different overseas, but if something like that were to be implemented here, how much money are we talking about?
RD: That’s a difficult one, to be honest. I really couldn’t put a number on it, because it’s never happened here. I think you have to judge it where that player ends up. Too often here, players say they are down in the U.S. playing in a pro league, and then you find out they’re making 600 bucks a month. That’s not playing pro; that’s living your dream. When you’re looking at a youth player, I think it will all depend … you know, I heard something this week about a kid from England who is over visiting Barcelona, doing the tour around the stadium, and outside there were some kids on a field doing a kick-about, and he joined in. And now Barcelona are interested in him! I think he’s 12 years old. That’s an example. Could that happen to a Canadian kid? Now you’re on a different level. What is it worth to Barcelona to pay?
CSN: I want to take it back to Ontario for a second, and get your take on the rise of private academy options in Ontario and B.C. Do they present a good alternative, in your opinion, for youth players to develop? There’s a certain debate over whether or not this is a viable system: if it can work within Ontario soccer, and currently, as it stands, it doesn’t. Are some of the best coaches going there? What is your take on private academies in Ontario and B.C.?
RD: I think there’s a place for them, for sure -- if it’s done properly and run professionally. And I think the OSA and the governing bodies need to look at the academies and make sure that they are following the rules. Too many academies just pop up for one year, and then disappear again. They’re not really developing kids. They’re just taking money, and that I totally disagree with. I think you have to have an academy that has a long-term plan. It’s definitely a viable option. I disagree with it if it’s not done properly – like anything. There are some excellent coaches in some of the academies that I know from this area. People always say they’re going there because they are well-paid, and that’s okay. If the clubs would then would start paying their coaches, maybe they would stay with the clubs. But there are some excellent academies doing an excellent job of developing their players. You can see it in terms of players getting the opportunity to go to Europe. That’s one thing I don’t see the clubs doing a lot of, is giving the kids that option to leave here. Club teams would be afraid to lose a player. They want to keep them all the time. Academies are happy to develop a player, and create an opportunity for them elsewhere.
CSN: That’s interesting. The academies that I know of in Ontario are a couple of the Russian academies, as well as SAAC. They do develop players, and they do take them overseas, etcetera. But like you said, the clubs perhaps have more of an inclination to get in registration, as opposed to developing youth players. Do you agree with that?
RD: Yeah. It’s a numbers game. They want the player to stay; they don’t want the player to leave. In soccer, the ultimate goal for your club should be to develop the player. You’ve had a player in your system that goes to the next level, and let’s say in Southern Ontario the next level is to play for Toronto FC. If you’ve got a 15-year-old who is an excellent prospect, why keep him? Your club is not going to go under if you lose five, six, 10 players in a season. That player should be going to the next step – to TFC or to Europe or the U.K., and the ultimate goal is to play for your country. If you keep a kid, and say you can play from U-11 to U-18 in our system, it’s removing that opportunity to further develop, and move on and play for Canada – which, in my opinion, for the youth clubs, should be the ultimate goal, and have the most pride with the picture on the wall, in the clubhouse.