The beautiful and courageous reform of Soccer Québec

In the past, when it came time to establish a diagnosis on the health of their federation, many managers were satisfied to take a look at the annual fluctuations in the total membership. This is no longer the case. It is now the quality of the relationship that we manage to establish between the athlete and his sport that takes precedence.

And Soccer Québec is one of the federations that have changed course and are moving the seas and the world to make their sport and their environment more attractive and more beneficial for their athletes, educators, referees and employees.

The efforts made are impressive.

A few weeks ago, the leaders of Soccer Quebec were challenged by a column I had written on the important change in philosophy of the German Soccer Federation. The leaders of the Deutscher Fußball-Bund could however have been satisfied with the status quo since their organization has long been among the most successful in the world on the international scene.

It so happens that Soccer Québec is also in the midst of a gigantic reform, just as audacious, centered on the pleasure of children and on development in all its forms, whether athletic, human or organizational. I recently had the opportunity to meet several leaders of this dynamic Quebec federation to discuss it.

Soccer Québec’s general manager, Mathieu Chamberland, believes that the member retention rate is a federation’s best performance indicator.

At one time, our retention rate was very low. But there were so many new players signing up every year that our membership still increased. However, if we had been a private company, such dropout rates would have been very poor results. he says, with great frankness.

It is normal for toddlers to come and try soccer and then leave. But generally speaking, people will come back from one season to another if they are satisfied. It is now the main performance indicator for all our clubs and all our regional associations. »

A quote from Mathieu Chamberland, General Manager of Soccer Quebec

Soccer Quebec attaches so much importance to the quality of the experience offered to its members that, last fall, it commissioned a study from the International Sports Management Observatory (OIMS) at Université Laval. This study aimed, in particular, to better understand the members of the federation.

Soccer Québec wanted to know their motivations as well as the reasons that led them to abandon the practice of soccer or the reasons that would likely make them turn their backs on their sport.

More than 2,600 current and former members responded to some 25,000 questionnaires that were distributed. All age groups were represented among the respondents, but over 70% of those polled were under the age of 18.

It is extremely interesting to note that regardless of their age group or their level of play, all the groups questioned placed the notion of pleasure at the forefront of the factors that motivate them to practice soccer. And conversely, among the reasons for giving up or the reasons likely to eventually convince them to turn their backs on soccer, the loss of pleasure came first.

The quality of the coaches was also a determining factor for a significant number of respondents.

Basically, there are very few differences between a 6-year-old child who plays soccer on a local team and a 17-year-old who wears the uniform of an AAA team. Both want to have fun while benefiting from a stimulating environment.

One of the major conclusions of the study was that players who have been registered for soccer for three years or less are significantly less likely to re-register than other players.

To improve its retention rate, Soccer Québec must therefore to hook and give the desire to return to a greater number of beginners.

The number and size of the reforms that have occurred in the world of Quebec soccer in the recent past, and those that are being deployed are almost dizzying. The federation is in the process of implementing a real change in culture, the effects of which will not be fully measured for several years, according to the director of development, Mike Vitulano.

Children with their soccer coach.

Children with their soccer coach.

Photo: Getty Images / kali9

First, there is the club recognition program which was implemented by Soccer Canada in 2018 and which found in Quebec the highest membership rate in the country.

Simply put, the Club Recognition Program is a list of criteria or quality standards that clubs must meet to provide a quality experience for their members.

The program has four different levels of requirements to be recognized as a local, regional, provincial or national club. The higher you go in the hierarchy, the more criteria there are to meet.

Thus, a local club must meet about twenty quality criteria to obtain its recognition, while clubs with national recognition, such as those of Blainville or AS Laval, must tick approximately 150 boxes to obtain and maintain their status. We then speak of amateur clubs managed with a very high degree of professionalism.

Club recognition was intended to empower clubs and empower them. Everything that is done in the clubs is now documented and this ensures their sustainability. Previously, everything had to be redone from scratch after the passage of a cohort of talented players or after the departure of a technical director.explains Mike Vitulano.

In Quebec, we have 116 recognized clubs out of the 165 applications we received. Elsewhere in Canada, the province that ranks second is Ontario, with 40 recognized clubs. There is no competition between the provinces on this, but we are still very proud of ithe adds.

On the pitch, the club recognition program has also led to the creation, in each club, of an entity called the club development center and which is aimed at players from 4 to 12 years old. People in the middle just call it the CDC.

The CDC is great because it ends an illogical practice that has existed since time immemorial in minor sport. This practice consisted in assigning the best coach of an association to a team consisting of, say, the 12 best players of their age group. The rest of the cohort was often left behind.

CDC’s goal is to provide the same quality of service for everyone. A child who is playing his first season in soccer or one who is in his fourth season are entitled to the same quality of supervision with their club.explains development director Mike Vitulano.

Previously, we registered children according to their ability to play in a recreational or competitive setting, recalls the director. From now on, they can register according to their enthusiasm for the sport. The service offering may include options such as one practice/one match per week, or just one match per week, or a minimum of two practices/one match per week.

Instead of working with just 12 youngsters, the certified coaches oversee 100. There are now 100 youngsters showing up on the pitch. They are separated into groups of 10 and they participate in several workshops, in rotation, with qualified coaches before playing their little match. A lot of reluctance was expressed by the parents at the beginning. But people are now telling us they like it. »

A quote from Mike Vitulano, Development Director of Soccer Quebec

On the other hand, and I would like to stress this, we still have a long way to go in deploying this program. It’s a big change and there is still a margin between the level we want to reach and where we are. admits Mike Vitulano.

Through all these changes, the leaders of Soccer Québec, the regional associations and the clubs pay particular attention to the concept of meaningful competition to ensure that each child finds himself in an environment that will allow him to have fun while doing in the face of challenges and, therefore, to progress.

In short, we are in the process of establishing a real culture of development.

You must have already been involved in the management of sports programs to understand the extent and complexity of the changes listed since the beginning of this text. We wonder how the people at Soccer Québec manage to carry out so many large projects at the same time.

And incredibly, it’s far from over isn’t over!

This year, a new competition framework comes into effect for 9-10 year olds.

In order to promote player development and learning, this category will now play four 12-minute periods instead of two 20-minute halves. Coaches will be able to do more feedback with their players and make more changes.

In this seven-against-seven formula, hits will no longer be allowed. Instead of putting the ball back into play with the hands, it will now be necessary to pass with the feet or simply re-enter the game by dribbling.

Instead of allowing goalkeepers to clear the ball, rule changes have also been introduced that force goalkeepers to play the short game, which encourages players to be creative while allowing them to touch the ball more often.

From 2023, players aged 11-12 (therefore from the current generation of 9-10 year olds) will benefit from a continuation of this reform which will allow them to continue to develop more optimally.

A child holds a soccer ball in front of a net.

A child holds a soccer ball in front of a net.

Photo: Shutterstock / Romrodphoto

And this very year, pilot projects are in place in several regions of Quebec for children aged 4 to 8.

Six-year-olds don’t yet have the technical skills that allow them to play five-on-five collectively, explains the director of development. We are therefore in the process of introducing two against two matches, with two or four nets. And it is clear that it causes more shots, more duels and more dribbles.

For 7-8 year olds, it’s a three against three formula with goalies that is being fine-tuned. These new programs should be in effect everywhere in Quebec starting in 2024. announces Mike Vitulano.

Each time I sign a text on the innovations put in place by a federation, I am surprised to receive emails from readers who still believe that faithfully reproducing the forms of competition designed for adults or high-level athletes is the best way to introduce children to sport.

All the serious studies show that young athletes want above all to have fun and to have the possibility and the feeling of progressing in the practice of their sport.

The head of club structure at Soccer Quebec, Christophe Blin, believes it is normal that the new programs meet some resistance.

Not every parent has the knowledge of a guy like Mike Vitulano about the stages of a player’s development or is used to discussing concepts like long-term athlete development and the patience that that need.

There is a lot of communication work that needs to be done and that needs to include parents. That said, the vast majority of people embrace the new orientations of Soccer Quebec. »

A quote from Christophe Blin, head of club structure at Soccer Québec

All of these changes are made for the right reasons and with tremendous conviction. We can’t wait, in a few years, to be able to measure the effects.

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