MLS: No quick-fix for Canada's youth
Vancouver-born Jacob Lensky is currently awaiting clearance to sign with Vancouver Whitecaps after a number of years in Holland with FC Utrecht and Feyenoord. The 23-year-old began his career with Belgium’s Anderlecht, before joining the youth teams of Sparta Prague, Blackburn Rovers and Celtic, but despite this valuable experience in some of the best leagues in the world Lensky has had a difficult time adjusting to the various diverse cultures and was released by Utrecht due to alleged disciplinary problems.
In the article the Impact of Globalization in the United States (Berth et al, 2008) the authors cite the problem that “prospective athletes can’t take a couple months hiatus for fear of falling behind their peers and being excluded from their teams the following season” (p.215).
This problem leads to the athlete falling behind in their studies should they choose to progress in their desired sport and “putting it all on the line,” running the risk of not graduating nor gaining any post-secondary skills which could lead to unemployment and subsequently psychological distress. This is the case with Lensky and many others, who either give up the sport at an early age, or struggle to adapt to society once they’ve grown weary of it.
One reason given for this issue is the lack of youth development in Canada, with problems ranging from politics between Provinces to big-name (and big-money) spending in the MLS as a quick-fix method to increase audience viewership. Just look at Beckham, Henry, Marquez, Nesta, even the Whitecaps with Lee Young-Pyo, and that’s not to say it isn’t working, it’s just that youngsters like Lensky, Marcus Haber, David Edgar etc are being forced to look elsewhere to prove themselves.
Many have been successful. Take David ‘junior’ Hoilett for example, but many have dropped out before they hit college.
Those in the transitional period include Victoria Highlanders’ midfielder Sasa Plavsic, who, while arguing that the development of youth soccer needs little improvement, admits that the professional aspect of soccer in Canada needs to show emphasis on ensuring their young players develop a sense of ‘Canadiana’ so that players don’t slip through the cracks and “turn their back on the Canadian national team once they’re invited back.”
While at Feyenoord, Lensky was asked to join the Canadian national squad but opted for the more glamorous choice of his fathers’ nation, Czech Republic, making a solitary appearance for their U21 team. Plavsic, whose team plays in the fourth tier of the American Soccer Pyramid, argues that, “there are very few opportunities in Canada, so once a player leaves for Europe or South America they don’t feel that sense of belonging in Canada because the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) hasn’t provided enough support to welcome them into the association and likewise, any belief that the nation’s soccer is going to progress.”
The Serbian youngster also suggests that Canada initiate a professional league (separate from the MLS) to mold players before they hit the top leagues, “It’ll give players opportunities that may have gone unnoticed at the college level.” Lensky agrees with this statement, and suggests the transition from university to professional is huge “in university you’ll most likely spend your time partying with friends and not worrying too much about having a bad game. When it comes to professional soccer there is a lot more pressure and expectancy on you, especially since you’re being paid to play.”
It was this pressure that led to Lensky leaving high school in Grade 10 to tryout abroad, and when offering advice to the next generation of youngsters his advice is plain and simple, “I’d give them advice if they would listen to it. I think if I was to give myself advice I’d say don’t rush it, everyone wants to be the superstar at 17. It’s more like a marathon than a sprint.”