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Long Term Player Development requires adjustments

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Spring sports are finished for now but there has been a change in philosophy with some sports that is taking some getting used to, at least for parents of young players.

It’s called Long Term Player Development, and it’s a concept that’s been studied and adopted by Sport Canada. Now, the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association and Hockey Manitoba, among others, are jumping on board.

Long Term Player Development is a framework for fostering ongoing growth in sport by building skills early and strategically. The idea is twofold: to provide opportunities for the development of elite athletes, and to foster the passion and positive lifestyle habits that well keep people playing for life at a recreational level.

It sounds good in theory. Of course, any change to the status quo brings out the naysayers, and it goes without saying that there is some controversy. Part of the framework is to focus on skills at the earlier stages. Long Term Player Development de-emphasizes aspects of sport like competition in favour of the development of essential skills. For younger age groups, this means no more scorekeeping. Some are finding this problematic. The main argument is that without winners and losers, kids lose the opportunity for valuable life lessons, such as sportsmanship and how to handle disappointment.

While some feel that Canada’s disappointing showing at various international sporting tournaments is a first-world problem that doesn’t justify efforts to cultivate elite athletes, one can hardly argue the value of nurturing a generation of Canadians that prefers active, healthy lifestyles to sedentary ones. And for many kids, especially those who are not naturally competitive or even particularly athletic, a positive, encouraging childhood experience with sport will mean the difference between playing soccer or hockey for fun in adult leagues or lifetimes spent playing video games.  

Participation in activities that focus on the satisfaction of personal improvement and achievement is at least as important as learning to lose (or win) graciously. And a good coach will develop those competition skills with or without a score.

At the moment, it seems prudent to wait and see how Long Term Player Development works out.

Jennifer Dunsford is a community correspondent for St. James-Assiniboia.

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