Who needs a License?

About twenty years ago I started to go through the soccer education process by taking the old youth coaching course in Halifax. The course was instructed by Mike Hudson with a guest appearance by Steven Hart and was the bait that got me hooked on my coaching journey. Since that time I have been eager to learn as much as I could, from those with so much more experience than me. I have now gone through the full Canadian licensing system and just recently, I finished my USSF B license. Even though I do not need my latest U.S. license for my employment, my employment makes me feel the need to take the license. The game is always changing, new tactics, new training methodologies, and constant contributions from sport science that alter how we physically train players. If a coach is not current how can they possible develop players for the next level or the new generation?

I do not mean this to be a high-horse, or soap box article, but rather a personal thought as to one of the issues hurting player development in Canada. I also appreciate that some coaches simply cannot find the time to take a week or so off work to attend a course, when travels costs are also incurred. I also appreciate that many others have UEFA licensing or perhaps a USSF license, so maybe going through our licensing system might be redundant when you already hold a UEFA A, B, or Pro. This article is really about a Canadian soccer led directive to increase the number of licensed coaches in this country. When it comes to discussing the Canadian licensing system, I have heard everything from, “I don’t need it to coach my team”, to “I don’t need a license to be a good coach” to other comments I won’t write down here because they are based more on ignorance than intelligence. The reality is that no, a license doesn’t mean you are a good coach, and not having a license doesn’t mean you are a bad coach. What a license does mean is that you are doing what you can to ensure your players are given the best opportunities to develop. You are willing to make yourself better to make your players better. It also shows that you are current with the Canadian Soccer Association and understand what they feel is the right way to push players on.

With respects to the CSA, and our own licensing system, of which I am a massive supporter, I always question those in our game that refuse to buy in. There are, in my opinion, far too many technical directors and technical staff coaches, taking the money off of parents to ‘develop’ their children, who have not obtained a National license. These same people will openly discuss player development, talk about developing a young player to the next level, and basically whisper sweet nothings into the ears of parents who don’t know enough themselves to question. In reality, do these paid staff coaches even know about the new player pathway and do they really promote players on to a higher level? If it is our job as youth coaches to promote players to the next level, we need to be aware of what the next level is. In our country there is now a clear pathway for the elite male player, from club, to a professional academy, then off to our national youth teams. Taking a Canadian national license, not only shows your support for your governing body, but more importantly, gives you the knowledge of current national team training principles and the CSA game model. Taking a Canadian licensing course puts you in sync with our national program and allows you take that new knowledge back to the young players who have a dream of one day representing our country. Of course I should add here that I am referring to the competitive club system, not so much the recreational stream.

For those working in the competitive stream, and especially for the ones who earn either a part-time or full-time wage in the game, do we call ourselves professional coaches? If we want to continue to grow soccer in Canada, I think that we all agree that we need better coaching and for our sport to be taken more serious by media and the corporate world. We need soccer coaches to be recognized as professionals and if we are professional, then we need a license to work, just like any other profession. Prior to actually getting my teaching degree, I always felt that I would be a decent teacher, but regardless of this, I first had to get my Bachelor of Education degree and then be certified by Alberta Education prior to being allowed in the classroom. Whether or not my degree actually helped me relate better to kids, or form relationships in the classroom that encouraged my students to learn is debatable, as I think that perhaps those are traits that someone is born with. What my degree did teach me is how people learn, the different types of learners and the different types of teaching methods. Not every child is going to learn the same, and teachers need to learn how to reach all of them. The reality is that my certification gave the government the belief I was qualified and it did give me an understanding of the requirements of my responsibility. Wanting to become a paid teacher also forced me to take my degree. And here is the real difference; I could have volunteered to help a teacher in the classroom. I wouldn’t have been responsible for any of the real learning, or been paid, but I would have been allowed to sit in to hone my own skills for the future. In soccer, we can go straight into the head coaching role, or a paid technical role, without any certification. If we want to be professional coaches, why should this be different from teaching, coaching is teaching. We really could use any profession here as our example. I mean driving through any shopping mall parking lot makes you wonder about the credentials of a civil engineering degree, but again it doesn’t matter, without the license, you wouldn’t be the one sending drivers into fits of anger and causing the dents on my car.

In our province, as I discussed in my last blog entry, the association is having a hard time in getting a High Performance League passed through the districts and associations. One of the benefits of HPLs, to the elite player, is that there is a requirement for coaches to have a national license. From the technical directors to the head coaches, there is a requirement for a minimum national license. For me, this is what is required to push our player development forward. We need to ensure that TDs and coaches of elite young players are nationally certified coaches. My comments by no means suggest that current coaches without a minimum National B license aren’t good coaches, but more a statement that the development of players into national programs would be enhanced if coaches were in touch with the technical staff of the Canadian Soccer Association. Of course, if they are pushed to obtain their license to continue coaching for money, then they will most likely get one as well. I recently tweeted out an article written about the Icelandic soccer federation and the incredible number of licensed coaches in their system. They openly point to the number of licensed coaches as the key to their current success in European qualifying. If the game is going to continue to grow in Canada, and if our senior programs are going to get better, it all depends on what happens at the youth levels. HPL leagues throughout our country would ensure a level of coaching that doesn’t currently exist when soccer dads, who do their best work on the telephone, instead of the soccer pitch, are able to coach our best players at the club level. HPL leagues could force coaches to get their license, and like Iceland, the better the coaching the better the player.

There have been many discussions about what needs to change in our governance structure throughout Canada, but I will leave that for those smarter than me. The only thing that I am really talking about here is how we can mandate more licensed coaches working with our best players. Perhaps a club charter, that recognizes those clubs (in non-HPL leagues/provinces) that have licensed technical staff versus the ones that don’t. Whatever the answer is, one easy solution for the growth of player development in Canada is to have licensed coaches, working with our best players, and all moving in the same direction as our governing body!

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