Canada Soccer & Neovation Score a Game-winning Goal with Blended Learning

With help from our Custom Learning team and SmarterU LMS, Canada Soccer's content  was transformed into scalable training.
A soccer stadium
733% increase in revenue
Revenue increased from $60,000 in 2020 to $500,000 in 2023
50% reduction in training time
Reduction of total training time from approximately 18 hours to  4–9 hours
Over 32,000 members
Members registering and purchasing training from 2020 to the present
Improved learner satisfaction!
The Client
Canada Soccer is the official governing body for soccer in Canada, providing training to 32,000 coaches and referees nationwide
The Challenge
Create scalable training which maintains the current community and culture that the current in-person training provides
The Solution
A blended approach of in-person training and eLearning courses crafted by Custom Learning, deployed using SmarterU LMS

The Client

Canada Soccer is the official governing body for soccer in Canada.

Supporting the country's most played participatory sport, Canada Soccer serves approximately 1,200 clubs operating out of every province and territory, including a staggering one million registered active participants. Coaches and referees receive training from Canada Soccer, with over 32,000 participating nationwide.

Group shot of Canada Soccer teammates and their coaches having  discussion, with a soccer ball bearing the Canada Soccer logo in the foreground.

As soccer is played on a field called a pitch, it is important that coaches receive practical, on-field training as part of their education.

Coaches at all levels — from local recreational clubs to competitive associations — train with Canada Soccer on the hard and soft skills needed to succeed in their roles. Learning paths that blend efficient, asynchronous eLearning with practical, on-the-field training gives coaches what they need to get started, develop, and grow their skills and teams. All training is offered in both official languages.

Soccer coaches have enormous influence on the success, engagement, and spirit of the teams they support. They are a driving force behind the team's culture. Beyond developing expertise in the rules and regulations of the game, they need observational and communication skills that will help them constructively deliver impactful coaching that allows the physical and mental development of the team members they support.

They have safety responsibilities, whether related to responding to adverse weather or injuries during the game or ensuring a positive and inclusive environment for team members that is free of harassment and bullying. Coaching also differs depending on the ages of those being coached. The approach and skills vary when coaching six-year-olds versus coaching 16-year-olds.

Coaches wear many hats, and Canada Soccer needed programming to support each.

The Challenge

Soccer is a team sport. Canada Soccer developed a training program for coaches that aligned with how the game is played – live, in person, and on the soccer pitch.

Coaches appreciated the individual instruction and the opportunities to ask questions, practice their skills, and develop and deepen relationships with others in the soccer community. Connection and community are integral to the sport and its culture.

Supporting a rapidly growing number of coaches in the fastest-growing sport in the country is no small feat. Maintaining an in-person-only training model is a heavy commitment when the training is delivered from coast to coast. Many challenges arise with scheduling, budgeting for travel, and tracking who has done what, when, and where — all of which is a problematic cadence to maintain. 

Essentially, what we did was take an in-person workshop and put it online; it just wasn’t designed for eLearning or an online virtual environment. So there were many things that might resonate or work well in a classroom or on a field, but just don’t work the same way online.

Dave Nutt, a smiling, bald man wearing a black Canada Soccer shirt.
Dave Nutt
Director of Development, Canada Soccer
Download the Canada Soccer Success Story PDF

Then came COVID. The onset of the pandemic and the ever-changing landscape of localized restrictions on in-person events forced Canada Soccer to shift its training online quickly. In just three weeks, training initially designed for in-person workshops was deployed via webinars and narrated videos.

The impact was immediate. Some pieces worked well, but others needed to be designed to translate naturally to a virtual environment. Breakout webinar rooms and online polls pale in comparison to the connection, community, and opportunity to practice skills that were a feature of the live training Canada Soccer had always been so proud to offer its members.

Accessibility was also a challenge in  a webinar-only world. Coaches and referees come from all walks of life with widely varying levels of experience with technology. COVID lockdowns also changed their audience’s availability, commute patterns, and working hours. 

Recognizing how these logistical and technical barriers could frustrate some learners or diminish their engagement, Canada Soccer was faced with a choice: 
Wait for COVID restrictions to lift and return to old ways of training, knowing that learner engagement would be high, but cost and administration would remain stubbornly high, too? 
Or seize the opportunity to redesign the program to meet everyone’s needs? 

The Solution

Canada Soccer seized the opportunity, finding a partner in Neovation Learning Solutions.

Together, the content was crafted into blended learning paths to be deployed and tracked through SmarterU, Neovation’s powerful LMS (learning management system). Canada Soccer and Neovation also partnered to configure and create an online store where members sign up, purchase, and gain access to their training.

Design of the Program

The first stage in this transformation was the design and development of the content.

Canada Soccer worked with Neovation’s expert Custom Learning team, consisting of instructional designers, writers, and eLearning developers to deeply examine their original workshop material and the lessons learned from delivering them via webinar.

What elements translated well to online delivery? Which were less successful?

Neovation worked with Canada Soccer subject matter experts to map out the new blended learning approach and built five custom eLearning courses to create a learning stream for coaches of all levels. The Grassroots Coach Education Program was born.

The structure for the streams would be consistent, whatever the level of the coach:
The foundational eLearning course Coaching Soccer in Canada, applicable to coaches of all levels, begins the learning journey
A second eLearning course specific to the age and stage of the players that the coach is working with is then delivered 
A practical workshop is then delivered locally, where the coach can practice their skills

Design of the Courses

The course design was also essential to increase learning engagement.

Before beginning any eLearning course builds, the design was carefully considered to craft clear, consistent, templated layouts that learners could easily navigate.

The on-field workshop component of the training was also considered. Canada Soccer knew it had a wealth of untapped resources locally. More experienced and senior coaches had the knowledge to deliver these workshops, and connecting locally with the soccer community was a part of the live training that members valued.

[The Neovation team] put the eLearning courses into readable, bite-sized pieces where we didn’t lose the content or the intent of what we had. The result was a consistent look from course to course, from section to section. It was critical that the language was clean and very concise. What the Neovation team came up with was just outstanding.

Jim Louglin
Manager of Coach Education, Instructional Design and Content Development, Canada Soccer
Download the Canada Soccer Success Story PDF

Change Management

The challenge of changing a nationwide training program involving thousands of coaches was significant. 

Getting buy-in from coaches and other subject matter experts was needed for the program to succeed. The program could not achieve its aims without their engagement, excitement, and acceptance of delivering the live workshops locally.

The Canada Soccer team worked with its local coaching experts, inviting all feedback on the program's evolution and the new, streamlined process to schedule, track, and report on live training locally.

A line of coaches teaching youth soccer. One coach is kneeling with a large whiteboard.

Canada Soccer's project success relied heavily on close engagement and consultation with provincial and territorial member associations.

This consultative approach allowed the voices of local coaches to be at the forefront of development. It provided space for them to be involved, voice any concerns or dissent, and take an ownership role in the development and evolution of the training program.

This deep level of consultation proved a key to success as coach educators saw how their feedback was valued and informed the program's evolution. 

The Canada Soccer team was able to carefully consider all sides, address concerns, and gain the buy-in needed from coach educators to manage the change and have them take the reins of delivering the local practical workshop training elements.

Course slide with a quote: "If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow." - Alfie Kohn

You empower others throughout the system to conduct that training locally. This makes it more accessible to the end user because you can get it ideally right in your backyard versus having to go somewhere centrally and learn from one of the Canada Soccer staff. We wouldn’t have enough hours in a day or days in a week to be able to deliver all that ourselves.

Dave Nutt
Director of Development, Canada Soccer
Download the Canada Soccer Success Story PDF

Members simply register and purchase their training. Canada Soccer and Neovation worked together to create a seamless process for new and existing members to buy and access. 

Each training stream was made available as an item for purchase in Canada Soccer’s online store. 

A registration form allows new members to sign up, purchase, and have their learning accounts created instantly. Their learning path is available immediately, and they can start their training online without delay.

The ability to begin eLearning on their own time and schedule ensures learners can advance efficiently through their online training and then connect for one-on-one practice, coaching, and mentoring locally.

The SmarterU LMS tracks and reports on the completion of each element of the learning path, making it easy for learners to see what courses they have completed, and what they have left to do. 

It is equally easy for Canada Soccer to drill-down into learner engagement, from a bird’s eye view of overall completions to a micro-level view of how any individual learner, club, province, or territory are progressing with their training.

Elements of the blended learning program:

Online asynchronous eLearning courses
In-person and on-field instruction with a local coach
Multimedia resources
On-demand job aids and resources
Social learning

Measurable Benefits

The new blended learning approach has been a success for everyone. 

733% increase in revenue
Increase in revenue from $60,000 in 2020 to $500,000 in 2023
50% reduction in training time
Reduction in total training time per learner from approximately 18 hours to a streamlined 4–9 hours depending on the training stream
Over 32,000 members
Widespread adoption, with more than 32,000 members registering and purchasing training from 2020 to the present
Improved learner satisfaction!

Canada Soccer has seen huge savings in time and cost. Administration is reduced as learners can now self-register and make purchases to get started. They no longer need to wait to be scheduled for training or face barriers like traveling long distances to access it. They can begin their eLearning immediately and progress at their own pace.

By empowering experienced local coaches to deliver live training, both the coaches and their coachees further their skills. This peer-based learning honors the softer, more individualized learning outcomes Canada Soccer sought to achieve with shorter, more accessible, and inclusive courses supported by community connections and practical learning.

The grassroots coaching program and the connections it nurtures are at the heart of the soccer community's culture.

The transformation to blended learning cut training time in half or more for all coaching streams. Tracking and reporting on training are now as simple as a few clicks. With Neovation providing end-user support, learners have an easy path to reach out if any technical assistance is needed. A chat function is available right on their dashboards to access support should they need it.

The Soccer Canada team also saw a considerable increase in recognized revenue. Dave Nutt said, “Not only did we increase the revenue streams because people were registering upfront, we also made it significantly easier from a reconciliation perspective because there’s no paperwork with the provinces and territories now.”

Canada Soccer’s team is unburdened by the distractions of creating new users, assigning training, and providing technical support when needed.

Hours that used to be lost reconciling accounts are now devoted to adding more value to members across the country. The Canada Soccer team can keep its focus where it delivers the most for its members—building and developing the training and support needed to grow the game, the sport, and the coaches who make it all happen.

We were able to cut training time in half, and in some cases more with the combination of eLearning and field work.

Jim Loughlin, man with a slight smile and short, dark hair, wearing  a blue jacket.
Jim Louglin
Manager of Coach Education, Instructional Design and Content Development, Canada Soccer
Download the Canada Soccer Success Story PDF

Future Plans

Building on the success of the coaching program, Canada Soccer is expanding its training offerings — developing more courses and learning streams.

A new project is also underway to create a data connector with the National Coach Certification Program, a centralized database for all coach education in Canada across all sports.

When realized, this will automatically push training completed on SmarterU to that platform, removing another manual step for the Canada Soccer team and leaving them with even more time to build training that grows their members and grows soccer across the country.

Canada Soccer logo on a white wall, with a door off to the side that says "This is our house."

The blended learning approach scored the winning goal for Canada Soccer and its members.

It takes a team to train team coaches from coast to coast to coast. 

The pandemic tried to be the red card that took training off the field for good.

Instead, a blended learning path scored the game-winning goal for Canada Soccer and its members.

Group shot of a youth soccer team on a bench, with their coaches

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