Very interesting read from McCormack '01 Yale: http://www.bcsoccerweb.com/articles-april/ciara-mccormack-apr-09.htm Up Against It: Why our Soccer System Fails April 9, 2010 - By Ciara McCormack Like most of the BC soccer community, I was extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Roman Tulis and found myself tearing up when I came across the news. Although I had never met him before, I was friends with many of his players, both male and female. His players always possessed supreme technical ability and everyone spoke so highly of his methods of teaching, his passion, and his integrity in the game. Through his obvious passion for the game and the belief it could be done better, I admired the way he didn’t put his energy into the politics that envelop the game in Canada but instead embarked on building opportunities for players that backed his strong passion for and knowledge of the game. He quietly did his own thing and let the accomplishments of his players speak for themselves. In the same manner that Roman saw a deficiency in the system and took action to add another option for the benefit of the players, a group of us twenty-something elite female players started the girlsCan Western Canada Soccer Showcase, a professionally run College Showcase for female players in grades 9-12. While on one hand, we have some fantastic stories that have come out of the first three years of the Showcase, this year again elucidated some very real problems that exist within the soccer system in BC and Canada. I believe these problems need to be highlighted and changed in order to move soccer forward in a real way in this province and country. I will highlight the history of running this showcase over the last three years to show just one tiny example within many others, of the type of resistance people face when trying to sincerely change the soccer landscape for the better in this province and country. In giving my experience, perhaps it will serve to uncover the answers that I always have had as a player as to why we always seem to be falling so far short of our potential to be a true soccer powerhouse. As simply put as possible, I played a main role in starting the girlsCan Western Canada Soccer Showcase in 2008, because I had a fantastic experience playing university soccer at a school that fit me perfectly. This was due in large part to my dad who had been extremely diligent in researching the process. Since that time, many girls had approached me for help in grade 12, some Provincial team players - others not, but all who were very talented, and desperate for help in getting connected with a college. Many did not realize that second semester grade 12, especially for schools in the US, was too late to begin the process. I also started the showcase because I loved the idea that the opportunity to play at college seemed to level the playing field and took out the politics that often permeates the game. Essentially, you could be a Provincial team player or someone who simply kicked the ball in the backyard for 5 hours a day, it didn’t matter; if a coach thought you were good, you would get an opportunity. Lastly, many of my friends who were college coaches always lamented to me about how they knew there were good players in this part of Canada, but there was nothing in existence similar to the professional showcase events that were run in the US. In other words, there was no vehicle to see these female players play on a large scale. With these four points in mind, and yet having absolutely no experience of running any kind of a similar event but fueled with many good memories of my own college experience and thankfulness for a father who educated himself on the recruitment process, I decided to embark on building such an event for high school female players in Western Canada, in Vancouver, BC specifically. My main perceptions initially on the greatest challenges were how to go about booking fields, acquire the necessary insurance, and get enough college coaches up to Vancouver. What I did not expect was the kind of resistance I would get from the system itself. It was a lesson on an unhealthy structure of power within a fractured system that almost knocked the showcase down before it had the chance to start. My first glimpse came within an hour of us sending the first email, in late 2007, advertising the inaugural 2008 Showcase. We made it clear in the initial flyer that we were not affiliated with anyone. We did so to underscore the purpose of the showcase, which was to welcome all players and make clear that no bias would be shown to anyone regardless of their soccer background, so long as they were playing at an elite club level. Within an hour, we had received our first taste of resistance in the form of a response to an email we had written to a BC Provincial team coach asking him to pass the information on to his players. Instead of an email response from the coach himself, we received an email from a board member of BC Soccer, cc’d to approximately ten other members of the BC Board asking us how dare we solicit their support given that our event clearly stated we were not affiliated with anyone. The long winded email was haughtily signed off with an instruction to read an attached pathway to player development. I felt as though we had innocently and naively thrown a pebble into a lake and yet instead of having an expected ripple from that stone toss, was hit in the face with a tsunami. We responded immediately to the email and spent over an hour constructing that response, including clearly outlining that we were not asking for their support as such, just if they could pass on the information to their players, letting them know of the opportunity. We wrote respectfully, point by point, trying to explain in detail that we had simply identified a gap in the system and, as former college players ourselves, we were simply embarking on the task of filling that gap. This painstakingly constructed email was responded with a curt one sentence response from the BC Soccer staff member that he did not have the time to read the response. We were told that if we wanted to, we could schedule a meeting the following week at their offices. This two hour-long meeting a few days later, was eye-opening to say the least and immediately brought to light some of the reasons why our system is the way that it is. There were some interesting points that came out of this meeting. One that comes to mind is a statement by this BC Soccer staff member saying “let’s be honest, no girl outside of the Provincial team is going to be good enough for a scholarship to a university - maybe an off chance of a Super Y player“ (we completely disagreed). Another statement coming from this BC Soccer staff member was “well this college showcase idea is something that we had in the works in the next couple of years so there really isn’t the need for you guys to run one” Our response to this was “what about all the girls in grade 11 and 12 now who are going to miss the chance while BC Soccer gets the idea together. Furthermore, why not take advantage of the immense amount of contacts we have in the college coaching system?” The only conclusion I arrived at was that the system was set up in such a way that in order for BC Soccer to assert their power, they had to have the positioning so they could maintain their authority. In other words, if you made the Provincial team, it was because you truly were the best player. It did not reflect well on their player selection methods, if players such as Nahiomy Ortiz (played for Colombia in the 2008 U17 World Cup, including a 1-1 tie against Canada, the same year she was cut from the Provincial team) or Meagan Price-Leibenzeder (never made a Provincial Team before receiving a scholarship to the University of Maine where she was recently named Conference All-Rookie) were successful since they were not a part of the “player development pathway”. Take also the example of TSS Academy. TSS currently has over 15 grade 12 players who have recently been recruited to college teams in both Canada and the US. Of these players, not one of them was ever selected to the BC Provincial team. It was only through the efforts of organizations and individuals outside the “development pathway” that many of these players were given an opportunity to play college soccer. Of course the idea that there would be other methods to climb this pathway would take power and relevance away from BC Soccer’s assertion that their way is, in fact, the only way. In the meeting with BC Soccer, we also addressed the problems that we, as elite female players, identified in this “player development pathway.” This included the fact that for men and women, the pathway model is the same. This does not make sense on many levels. For one, I don’t know many females who have been able to make a living from the game. I think any female will tell you that the financial realities of being an elite male soccer player versus a female player are substantial. Furthermore, if the Canadian National team is at the top of this quoted “player development pathway,” I think you’ll find that if you survey all the members of the women’s National Team, I guarantee that most would say their college experience was the most important part of their development as a player. With that being the case, omitting university soccer as part of the “player development pathway” on the female side of the game is rather absurd. Fast forward two years later and we just finished our third year of the Western Canada Soccer Showcase - with 24 teams, girls involved from six provinces, many fantastic stories, and almost thirty universities from all across Canada and the USA in attendance. One would think that after three successful years we would have dispelled any notions that there wasn’t a place or a need for this type of event and yet the barriers and the resistance are as high as ever . At this point, there is still a chance that a 4th year of the Showcase could be threatened. For one, the Whitecaps have begun their own college showcase this year. One would think under normal competitive circumstances that the existence of the Whitecaps event would simply better focus our efforts on making the Western Canada Soccer Showcase as the best it could be. Unfortunately, the system and the power it yields makes us realize that despite our success, the continuation of our event remains precarious. The fact is that the Whitecaps, a private commercial enterprise, are within the coveted and often-quoted “player development pathway”. How a private, for-profit organization can be placed in this model immediately strikes me as troubling. As an athlete, one thing that I covet is competition. It has pushed me to work harder on my game, and through this refinement, become a better player and person. Competition makes me accountable, and makes me think creatively as to how I can become better. By basically handing the Whitecaps a metaphorical guaranteed spot in the starting eleven, it does everyone a disservice. It is also disrespectful to established, successful groups such as the aforementioned Roman Tulis Soccer School, TSS Academy, and many other groups that have quality people involved and have had many players succeed through their programs. As a player, I can definitely vouch for the necessity for players to have options - because that gives the power to the players to choose the environment that best suits them. If the BC Soccer slogan is “dedicated to development” then it’s logical to assume that the control and opportunity to put ourselves in an environment that best suits our needs should be in our hands. It should not be in the hands of an organization that forces these decisions upon us. So as it turned out, rather than being able to focus solely on running a successful event this year, we were forced to continually put out fires due to the simple fact that our event was not within the “system.” Instead of the supposed top players in the province being encouraged to attend this event and have the opportunity to play in front of schools such as McGill, UVic, Harvard and Arizona, we fielded emails from provincial team players who were told by their influential provincial team coaches that they were not allowed to participate in the showcase because, amongst other reasons, there was a “possibility of injury.” These late pull-outs were, of course, an inconvenience, but we placed no blame on the players. We understood as players ourselves that the coach holds the power in many situations. On elite teams, in particular, very few will stand up to this sort of thing for fear of jeopardizing their relationship with the coach and ultimately their position on the team. In addition to individual players, teams wrote us explaining how they were being pressured to join the Whitecaps showcase, and were debating pulling out of their commitment to the Western Canada Soccer Showcase (we only ended up losing one team). Furthermore, the provincial team, knowing full well that our showcase runs historically on Easter Weekend, scheduled mandatory events for players during the Easter Weekend. We received frantic emails from teams right before the showcase telling us that BC Soccer staff members had told them that the showcase was not sanctioned and they were worried about insurance. In fact, our event was fully sanctioned which was confirmed by BC Soccer and yet still a month later we were dealing with reports of an NTC coach and BC Soccer Staff member who continued to spread this falsehood. We also were told that our event was being pegged by a BC Soccer staff member as a “money grab” (last time I checked, the mode of transportation by members of our group was public transportation - not the spiffy BC Soccer white Mercedes SUV’s we see around town). Normally when something is successful, one expects these kinds of negative statements. However, when these attacks are orchestrated by the very people who dictate whether the event can even run - it’s alarming to say the least. Despite all this unnecessary added stress and knowing that we had no control over what other stumbling blocks would be put in our path, many positive qualities were seen over the course of the event such as loyalty (emails from teams stating that despite pressure to back out of our event that they loved what we were doing, believed in it, and would stick by us), bravery (coaches and parents standing up to BC Soccer, despite possible ramifications because it was about the players after all), and teamwork (working together with what could be seen as a competitor in TSS Academy who were fantastic in providing their facility and immense knowledge for a pre-event). Having female national team players involved in running the event and the mentorship that they provided to the girls was fantastic. Seeing the seeds of dreams being planted of what is possible with hard work in the classroom and on the field and watching goals unfold in the way of scholarship offers and university opportunities, gave and gives us the fuel to keep on fighting. I fully recognize that writing this article may be furthering our chances for trouble in upcoming years as the organization that I am calling out, is the very one whose signature we require on our paperwork for the event to run next year. BC Soccer are the ones that control many of the players who would be at the event. But as a player still myself, and with the girls’ best interest at heart, I am willing to lose the event in order to illuminate the current state of the system. My experience organizing the showcase has been the answer I have been searching for as to why many of the “good” people don’t stick around since these are the kind of headaches that are faced when putting effort into creating something positive in the system. That being said, perhaps that is why I cried and felt like I lost a friend when I read of Roman’s passing, a man I had never met. People like Roman Tulis set an example of having the courage to go out of the system for the betterment of the players, and his passion and integrity left their mark on anyone passionate on seeing the game grow in this country. I know that I, for one, will draw strength from his inspirational memory to continue the fight for change in the system and opportunity for choice for the players. Roman’s lasting inspiration coupled with every player out there with a dream and a desire to be better, at the very least, deserves that. Ciara McCormack grew up in Vancouver, BC, is the founder of girlsCan Soccer Development and the Western Canada Soccer Showcase. She currently plays for the Republic of Ireland National Team and for Kolbotn FC of the Norwegian Top League.