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Grassroots soccer experts agree Canada needs to change how it develops female players

Those working at the grassroots levels of Canadian soccer agree the women's team's early exit at the Women's World Cup shows the sport in this country needs to change how it identifies and develops young female soccer players.

Say more resources should go to improving training and facilities

A soccer ball sits on a field with kids in the background.

In the wake of Canada's crashout at the Women's World Cup, there is great consternation and soul searching among its supporters about what went wrong. How did a team that captured the country's heart with its heart-stopping gold medal two summers ago in Tokyo fail to launch beyond the group stage at soccer's most prestigious event?

Many are pointing at the team's ongoing battle with Canada Soccer, the national sport federation, over pay, preparedness and the resources devoted to providing a professional environment for Canada's best players. Although the two sides were able to broker an agreement, it came in the midst of the tournament and there were suggestions that bitterness and resentment over the drawn-out and public dispute remained.

There was also talk that Canada's disappointing result could be traced to the fact that there is no domestic women's league in Canada, pushing this country's best to play professionally abroad.

The face of Canadian soccer for the last few decades, captain Christine Sinclair, touched on these things after Canada's 4-0 loss to Australia that eliminated them from the tournament.

"I think you're just going to continue to see teams reach our level, surpass us, whatever you want to call it if things don't change," Sinclair said after the July 31 match, a 4-0 loss to Australia. "If the resources are there, we are going to continue to fall behind. If this isn't a warning sign, I don't know what is.

"I think more of it is like a wake-up call for our federation — the lack of a professional league, the lack of support for our youth national teams."

WATCH | Sinclair says early exit a 'wake-up call' for Canada Soccer:

Christine Sinclair says World Cup exit a 'wake-up call' for Canada Soccer

3 days ago

Duration 3:45

Following Canada's 4-0 loss to Australia and exit from the FIFA Women's World Cup, Christine Sinclair told CBC News' Lyndsay Duncombe that she thinks the defeat is a "wake-up call" to Canada Soccer.

Those working at the grassroots levels of Canadian soccer, from where the development of the next generation of stars will emerge, echo many of Sinclair's concerns, and agree this World Cup result should make the sport in this country look at how it identifies and develops young female soccer players.

"Young ladies in these other leading countries are playing all the time," said Kim Brassor, executive director and co-founder of the Future Girls Soccer, the only all-female player and coach organization in Canada. "At dedicated academies there's kids that get trained for free because they're the best of the best.

"We don't have that environment here. Everybody loves soccer, everybody who plays soccer, loves soccer. Everybody that coaches soccer loves soccer. But it's a different approach."

Brassor, who has also served on the executive of the Ontario Soccer Association's Women's Committee and written a book called Reaching for the Rings: A Young Girls Guide to Growing her Game, said it's time to apply the same dedication Canada applies to building sustained excellence in hockey from an early age to soccer.

"There's nobody that's not dedicated to seeing the players get better," Brassor said. "But I don't think our culture makes it a priority and says OK, we have to make our priority to make our players the best of the best in the world."

Brassor said sustained success internationally begins with increasing the intensity and quality of training for girls beginning as young as eight.

'Don't play enough games'

"We don't train enough and we don't play enough, we don't play enough games. There's restrictions to what they're allowed to do and how many hours a week we can train, how many days they can do it," she said. "If you look at some of these other countries that are coming through the forefront, the performance that they're displaying right now. I'm sure if we went and looked at their soccer associations, the restrictions are not the same."

Brassor said this stalls development. And while she is not advocating for young girls to play only one sport, she said in leading soccer nations, the focus on soccer is exclusive.

"I mean it's math, It's hours spent on the ball," she said. "It doesn't matter if you have the best training facilities in the world but if your players are spending time on the ball and other players aren't, they're going to get surpassed."

For many organizations, the desire to get their best players more time on the ball is not always possible because of a lack of space.

It's a major issue in British Columbia where Jana Madill is the executive director of the North Shore Girls Soccer Club, one of the oldest and largest female-centred, not-for-profit community soccer clubs in Canada.

Quality coaching an issue

"What we're experiencing locally in B.C. is we have a shortage of space," Madill said. "That's a huge issue for us in the Lower Mainland. We just don't have enough fields to actually manage the demand.

"We're seeing on the West Coast growth in sport and growth in soccer, but we don't have enough field space to get as many kids as much training as we as parents would like to pay for."

A bigger issue is quality coaching.

According to FIFA, Canada and other teams that did not go beyond the group stage at this Women's World Cup will each receive $1.56 million US from the world governing body to "support football development in their countries."

Brassor and Madill suggest that money would be best directed at coaching and a wider system of ensuring the best young players are identified and properly trained. Madill said much more must be done to keep quality players involved in soccer, even if they don't reach the game's highest levels.

"Our system requires certified trained skills, competitive thinking, whole athlete-minded coaches and particularly for girls, girls need to see it, be it," she said. "And there are just not enough elite players coming out of the system and coming back into coaching. That could be the pro players, but it could also be our varsity athletes because there's never been a strong promotion, a strong value or strong opportunities coming out of Canada Soccer for female coach education."

Brassor points to two visiting coaches from England who recently conducted a camp at Future Girls Soccer. For both, coaching soccer was a full-time job, something that is very rare at the elite levels of youth soccer in Canada.

"Imagine the attention dedicated to their craft if that's your full time job, the time they're taking to create a practice session, to identify priorities, the strengths and weaknesses of all of their players," she said. "The reality for most of our grassroots organizations are volunteers that mean extremely well or you've got coaches who have a day job.

"Imagine if they had all day to think about it. What do we need to do differently to make sure the fitness is there, the agility is there. We don't have that financial infrastructure for coaches to really dedicate themselves to the development of our kids and I think that's huge."

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