Once again the World Cup has come and gone, entertaining many of us in the bargain, and in many senses, bringing the world, if not this country, a little closer together, demonstrating soccer’s popularity — especially the increasing interest here.
And as the World Cup always does when it comes around, particularly when it’s carried by the CBC, it spawned at least one segment on the national news which argued that soccer would soon take over from hockey in terms of popularity in the country.
On the panel were Dwayne De Rosario, Martin Rennie and sports analyst Nigel Reed, so you might imagine how that turned out.
And as is often the case, the reason cited was the increased number of kids playing the game, and the fact that immigration will have an even greater impact on the culture of sport as more kids whose parents are from other countries express the sporting interest of their homeland through their children.
Of course, lots of kids have played soccer for years in this country — more than hockey, and that’s nothing new. It’s cheaper than hockey and parents have never perceived any possible danger to little Johnny or Suzy from soccer, whereas many read all manner of peril into hockey.
Ask the kids playing soccer how many would rather be playing hockey and CBC’s panel might be in for a shock.
Yes, the kids play the game, but when it comes to developing world-class skills, it certainly doesn’t happen often, and isn’t likely to even if the number of players increases significantly, although it will improve the odds of an outlier like Christine Sinclair.
And as most great Canadian athletes must in so many sports, Sinclair had to go to an NCAA university to become the sensational world-class star she is.
Soccer has a couple of problems in the country — well, maybe a few more, judging by the international results our players get on the men’s side, at least — and a couple of the significant ones are pretty easy to identify.
For starters, lots of kids play, but they don’t play for long. And by that we mean their season isn’t long, whereas many of the world’s best players come from climates where you can play 12 months of the year and work on skills in the backyard or the burnt-out vacant lot across the street if you’re poor.
Like it or not, you are in a country where large portions of the population live in areas where you either can’t or don’t want to play the game for huge stretches of the year.
How many players are we likely to develop from Edmonton? Or Montreal or Quebec City or Thunder Bay? For the most part, if it isn’t happening in Vancouver or Toronto, it isn’t happening. And the really good kids tend to develop skills on their own practising by themselves or with friends in pickup games.
But like so many kids in hockey, young soccer players tend to be driven to the field, whereupon organized coaching begins, and, flat out, soccer coaching in Canada isn’t up to the world standards.
Indoor soccer facilities would certainly help, as such an increase in sports like tennis and basketball have, but such facilities tend to be expensive and are thus far lagging badly behind basketball in particular, where there’s a court or six at every school, run by coaches who are getting better and better by virtue of bettering themselves through tremendous dedication.
With little success at the national team level, our players have no galvanizing agent to trigger desire to join that team they see everyone watching and celebrating. Now a kid sees these World Cup games and just as likely he wants to grow up to play for Italy, Greece, England, Japan or Korea.
The Canadian team is nowhere to be seen. When they play, you have to literally ferret out the information to know when and where the game can be found on television. When Team Canada plays hockey, everyone knows when and where.
When you do see our soccer team, you find the players changing constantly. When Team Canada plays hockey, you know Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Shea Weber and Duncan Keith are going to be on that team for 10 to 15 years, whereupon they become enduring national heroes.
But when you finally watch our soccer team, it’s usually being hammered by some tiny Caribbean nation while the hockey team is usually doing very well. And there’s a fuss if it isn’t.
And the saddest part of all — CBC panel take note — is that despite all the kids we have playing soccer in Canada, not even the most ardent supporters of the national program profess to see light at the end of the tunnel.
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