Canada Soccer puts athletes first

It’s about developing good people who contribute to their society.

When Canada Soccer’s Manager of Development–Operations, Dave Nutt, thinks about the long-term development of athletes, his emphasis isn’t on finding the best dribbler or the most talented shooter; instead, he’s fixated on creating the right environment to foster social, emotional and mental health. As the national sport organization continues to implement and fine-tune its Long-Term Player Development framework, he believes their mandate shouldn’t be to exclusively focus on high-performers, but to celebrate each individual player and ensure they’re having a quality sport experience.

“It’s not new thinking, but it’s an evolution to what we used to think of sport. An athlete is always a person first, and that’s key. For Canada Soccer, most of the players in our system won’t go on to play for Canada or professionally they will become great people who contribute to their community,” said Nutt.

“It’s about the journey rather than the destination.”

Nutt considers soccer to be foundational to the person he’s become but recognizes that not all participants share that same positive experience. When he thinks of the sheer number of athletes whose lives the sport will touch, that motivates him to ensure Canada Soccer programming is as inclusive, welcoming and supportive as possible.

“Sport has so much to give. The scope and number of people you impact is massive. We’re second only to school when it comes to the number of youths whose lives we’re touching. That gives us so many great opportunities to provide positive experiences and mold young people into long-term participants who will go on to do great things,” he said.

Nutt has watched soccer radically transform since his days as a player with the use of small-sided games and developmentally appropriate approaches to coaching, which are innovations and ideas championed by Sport for Life. More recently, by fine-tuning their coaching and administration or adhering to the Quality Sport Checklist, the Canada Soccer Long-Term Player Development framework has become intimately intertwined in every aspect of their programming.

“We can always be more intentional about the way we support our athletes by looking at it holistically. We’re starting to redevelop what grassroots soccer looks like in Canada, with a focus on making it developmentally appropriate. Our goal is to have as many players as possible for as long as possible in the best environment possible,” he said.

Canada Soccer has introduced a Club Licensing Program that provides general guidance on how to run individual clubs, without being prescriptive, that aims to make the sport more accessible. One focus is on reducing barriers to participation, and that includes ensuring that girls are given the same opportunities as boys. Currently girls make up approximately 40% of their player population. Their next step is to address under-representation in coaching, officiating, and leadership positions.

“We have lots of girls playing the game, but that hasn’t translated yet to these other roles, so we’re taking steps so that our leadership reflects what the playing population looks like.”

Ultimately, Canada Soccer’s vision is for every club in the country to be providing safe, developmentally appropriate, fun, accessible, inclusive, and welcoming experiences for anyone who wants to participate. Sport for Life’s Director of Quality Sport Development Carolyn Trono applauds their progress so far.

“Canada Soccer has proven repeatedly that their organization is dedicated to inclusivity and quality sport, backed up by research and implemented systematically through their licensing program. Because of the work they’re doing, countless young athletes will be given the chance to have a positive experience of soccer and develop the skills to allow them to be active for life.”

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