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Won’t someone please think of the children!

It’s the call of the most aggressive of opponents of the Canadian Soccer Associations’s Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) plan.

“We must protect the children from the creeping socialism of big government,” the anti-LTPD voice screams. “They are trying to bubble wrap kids from the harsh realities of life!”

One gets the vision of an angry, old man shaking his fist while sitting on a porch sipping lemonade.

“They’re making them soft,” he screams. “Soft, I tell you. That’s what’s wrong with this generation. They don’t understand what it’s like to earn their way.

“Life’s not a picnic,” the old man trails off. “Gotta toughen then up…”

It’s a loud voice focused on one, small part of the LTPD plan—namely the lack of emphasis on competition at younger levels of the sport in favour of greater skill building. Only, that’s not how they see their opposition. To the anti-LTPD crowd their opposition is based on just three words.

Don’t. Keep. Score.

Despite years of research and strong sports science backing the plan, all opponents can see is a single recommendation in the plan to not keep scores and standings at the lower levels of the sport. This runs contrary to their perceptions on what sports is and what the purpose of youth sports are.

To those who are working slavishly to see the LTPD plan implemented, it’s the type of argument that makes them want to slam their head repeatedly against the wall.

It misses the whole point of the plan and paints those in favour as being a bunch of crazy lefties looking to turn soccer into some sort of cooperative activity where everyone wins.

The great irony here is that those who support LTPD are generally the most passionate and competitive subsection of the Canadian soccer community. They don’t want to take competition out of soccer in Canada. Quite the opposite, they want to make Canada and Canadians far more competitive in the game.

The principles espoused in LTPD make so much sense to those that favour it that they struggle to wrap their head around how anyone can be opposed. “You want a score,” proponents might say, “We’ll give you a score: Honduras 8, Canada 1. That’s why we need to change how we do things.”

The argument mostly falls on deaf ears. And, as right as proponents are in wanting LTPD implemented fully (and they are right—this is arguably the most important initiative in Canadian soccer history), it’s here that proponents must look in the mirror.

There is a serious messaging problem that is resulting in the end users—parents and players – not understanding the plan and, as such, not supporting it. The Canadian soccer community needs to do a much better job at explaining what LTPD is and what it’s not.

It’s not an easy task as it requires both nuanced thinking (winning today does not equal winning tomorrow) and long-term vision. The success of the plan cannot be measured until a generation of players has passed through it.

The plan needs to be explained in ways that average Canadians can understand. It does no good to preach to the soccer-loving choir. This conversation needs to happen pitch side to those that are least informed. It will be frustrating, but necessary. Right now the debate is being framed by journalists looking for an easy column and those that can’t be bothered to look beyond headlines to forge their opinion.

The soccer community needs to take the debate back and start the hard work of winning over non-believers one person at a time.