By Bobby Lennox
Most sports fans are aware that soccer (football in the rest of the world) is the No. 1 participant sport.
With 270 million registered players around the world, it is by far the most popular sport to play and also the most viewed game by spectators. But did you know that more people play soccer in Canada than any other sport?
Most Canadians think more people play hockey. But in 2012, Canada had 845,313 registered soccer players. It is estimated, if the trend continues, that the one-millionplayer mark will be reached in a few years.
Closer to home, the Ontario Soccer Association reports 353,236 registered players. If you account for unregistered players, this number is well over half a million.
Also, 42 per cent of the players are female. So soccer truly is a sport for everyone. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it’s so popular: anyone, of any size, anywhere can play.
You may think these participation numbers are high enough; The Canadian Soccer Association and the Ontario Soccer Association want even more people, young and old, to be active and healthy, playing the world’s most loved sport.
To help achieve this goal (no pun intended) both organizations have implemented a “soccerfied” version of Canadian Sport for Life’s Long Term Athlete Development Model.
The soccer version is called Long Term Player Development or LTPD for short. It involves development stage-specific — there are seven of them — game formats, practice formats, coach and referee education programs, all designed to improve the soccer experience at all levels of play, from the youngest recreational player to a player competing for a World Cup spot.
The biggest changes to soccer in Ontario have been seen in the grassroots area of the game. Some of the changes include improvements in the formats of play, with under-8 players playing 5v5 with a size 3 ball, with smaller goals on a smaller field.
This will allow these children to have more touches on the ball, more one-versus-one duels, more shots on goal, more saves.
By children being more active and more involved, they will enjoy and benefit more from the game. Similar changes have been made for u9s and 10s, who play 7v7, and u11s and 12s, who now play 9v9. The field and goal sizes increase in size as the child’s, physical, psychological, social and technical skills develop and improve.
It’s important that children also have a knowledgeable, trained coach who can not
only teach them soccer skills and techniques, but also has knowledge of the characteristics of each development stage and how those players will respond best to his or her teaching.
The Ontario Soccer Association delivers coaching courses that will train coaches in the techniques required to plan and deliver successful player-centred grassroots practices. These courses, starting at the youngest age groups, are labelled Active Start, FUNdamentals, Learn to Train and Soccer for Life.
If you are interested in finding out more about soccer in Ontario, LTPD or taking a coaching course, please visit the Ontario Soccer Association at www.ontariosoccer.net.
Bobby Lennox is the Manager, Grassroots Soccer Development of the Ontario Soccer Association