When he started working as technical director of the Prince George Youth Soccer Association in November 2010, Joel MacDonald was committed to staying put for a minimum of three years.
But after just two years on the job, MacDonald resigned last week, unable to avoid what he sees as a band of resistance within the organization to his coaching methods.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, and a lot of what I've been bringing with me is change, and it's very unusual to many people," said MacDonald. "I just felt I was waging too many battles trying to convince too many people inside and outside the club that what I'm doing and what I'm suggesting needs to be done is the right way to go about it.
"It became an issue of frustration for me and I just felt the amount of effort I was expending to try to continue the programming I came here to do was leading to some roadblocks, and the frustration was coming home and affecting my personal life and family. So at that point it was time to pack it in."
MacDonald has been contemplating resigning for about eight months but put it off because of his commitment to making his programs work to improve the city's 3,000-player youth soccer organization.
"I'm not doing this to leave players and coaches in the lurch, even though I am leaving them in the lurch, and I'm willing to stay on as a coach as part of the tech team throughout the next 14 weeks and the rest of the indoor programming," said MacDonald. "I'm not going anywhere and I could be asked by the organization to do more after the indoor program and I might not.
"I do have other soccer things on the go here as well and I will still be heavily involved in soccer."
MacDonald has developed his own business outside of the PGYSA promoting advancement of youth soccer players to provincial teams and the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy. The PGYSA lost BC Soccer support for that advancement program several years ago and in response MacDonald formed the Northern B.C. regional soccer training program. The program now has 65 players, coming from as far away as Fort St. John and 100 Mile House.
By late next year, MacDonald plans to return to Ontario and the Niagara region, where his wife Kristen was born and raised. Kristen is now on maternity leave from her job as general manager of PacificSport Northern B.C., and is looking after their infant son. She has told PacificSport she won't be returning to her job.
"I've been married for three months and have a seven-month old boy and it's a very different situation," MacDonald said. "In the past, I might have waged these sorts of battles against the resistance and kept doing my best to push through. But from a personal and family point of view, life's too short."
PGYSA executive director Len McNamara became aware of MacDonald's personal struggles with his job about three months ago, when MacDonald told him he likely would be moving on. McNamara said the board has given solid reviews on MacDonald's performance and wants him to stay on as a technical coach. "He just felt there was a lot of stress and pressure that was affecting his home life and he just wanted to coach and not have these other factors that he could or couldn't do what he thought he should be doing, and that there was a chance he could be gone at any point," said McNamara.
"We accepted his resignation and we're working to keep him involved as an instructor for the indoor programs, which end at the end of February. If you saw the things he's brought in and adopted and the direction of the programming and what the board wanted, for sure, we are [pleased with his performance]."
The PGYSA board won't make definite decisions about finding a long-term replacement technical director or any changes to the job description until the annual general meeting on Nov. 14.
"Parents shouldn't worry, our intention is to resolve the current situation and keep Joel in the fold, and if that doesn't happen we have capable people that can jump in and give us assistance with the programs he's involved with and there won't be any disruptions," said McNamara.
Before he moved to Prince George, MacDonald served five years as technical director of Kanata Soccer, near Ottawa. The 41-year-old native of Charlottetown, P.E.I., has a soccer background that dates back 30 years as a player at the amateur level. He's been coaching elite youth players from the U-14 age group through to the Canada Games for 22 years in B.C., Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I.
MacDonald pointed to Canada's recent performance in men's qualifying for the World Cup as an example that the current system needs fixing and that maybe it's time the country ditched some of the tried-and-true methods to turn youth soccer standouts into international-level players.
"Whether you're talking soccer for life or soccer for excellence, what we're doing isn't working and it has to change, said MacDonald.
"Maybe the way I go about things leaves confusion because it's just different from what people are used to for a youth soccer program. For some, they feel it's change for the sake of change and therefore it's no good. It threatens where their child is at and it takes what would have been a great situation for their child and makes it a bit more challenging to stay at that level, and they get threatened by that."