A heart-to-heart with the CSA's Stephen Hart - The Province

Steve Ewen For an encore, Stephen Hart might want to become general manager of a struggling Canadian NHL team. For now, Hart will have one of the other more scrutinized jobs in sports in this country, handling the technical director duties for the Canadian Soccer Association. The CSA has taken considerable flak in the past few years and even more is bound to come in the next few days, what with Canada eliminated from the 2010 World Cup chase after Saturday's 3-1 loss to host Honduras. The Province had a heart-to-heart with Hart when he came through Vancouver recently, and while he admitted there's much work to be done in Canadian soccer, he also sounded positive about the future. Hart, 48, was appointed to the technical director job in March and his focus is long-term development. The long-time Halifax resident, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, has coached national teams at various levels. WHAT'S YOUR FIRST GOAL? I think you have to think what you can have an impact with immediately. We're trying to convince the clubs, and the structure in general, that we have to be on a similar pathway. We have to believe in what each other can do. A new landscape is developing. You have Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto who are all into professionalism. It's still only three clubs. But once you have that, you'll have people seeking their own interest, in that it will be the interest of the clubs to handle player development. MUCH LIKE THE WHITECAPS RESIDENCY PROGRAM? The Whitecaps Residency Program should be applauded. It's so small a pool. I commented last night that 20 of the players who have been in that program had already represented Canada at the youth level. They were 13 and 14 when we saw them, and what the Whitecaps did, which was excellent, was when they finished with the Under-17 team they moved them into this program. HOW MUCH DOES THE CRITIcisM THE CSA TAKES BOTHER YOU? HOW MUCH IS FAIR AND HOW MUCH ISN'T? The CSA has had its problems. But things have to be built upon, renewed, regenerated. It's not going to happen overnight. It doesn't work that way. We're one of the few countries in the world where you're asking the federation to raise players, to develop players. In other countries, the clubs do it. Right now, some clubs are doing a really good job. CAN YOU GET TOP ATHLETES IN THIS HOCKEY-WILD COUNTRY? We have to get the kids at the right age who want to play soccer. We have to dig down very deep with identification and training. Between the ages of eight and 14, we have to have a serious focus on how we develop them in terms of co-ordination and technique. We have to decide which clubs are there for the elite players and which ones provide a pathway for players who just want to play. SO YOU'RE FOR RICHMOND, LET'S SAY, HAVING A RECREATIONAL SOCCER LEAGUE AND AN ELITE LEAGUE? It's the same thing as raising a concert pianist or a ballerina; you have to concentrate the product more. We're reaching the stage where we've not been successful in soccer, but soccer has been a success, if you understand what I'm saying. There are thousands of girls, boys, men, women playing the sport. For health reasons, for reasons of giving some direction and discipline to young people, it's a success. WHAT GIVES YOU HOPE? Now, more than ever, you have a generation of people in this country who love soccer and want it to do well. What I mean, more people that way. They are making demands on the Canadian Soccer Association, on clubs, on the structure. Yes, the Canadian Soccer Association is getting beaten down for everything wrong in the sport, but what gives me hope is that people are talking about it, people are interested. I get over 100 e-mails a day. People want to get better. © The Vancouver Province 2008