Too Busy to Play

Everywhere you go, everyone is ‘busy’. The stock response when someone enquires “How are you?” is to reply “Really busy” or “Up to my eyes in it” it has now become a boast camouflaged as a complaint. It is worn as a badge of honour with everyone seemingly addicted to ‘busyness’

I look at my own team. We train two nights per week and play a game on a Saturday. So, at worst they get 4.5 hours of practice/week. In between times I see players going to Boys Brigade, Scouts, band practice, piano lessons, tennis lessons, maths tuition, after school clubs etc etc. We have scheduled our kids to tiredness. Remembering back to my time at this age (not exactly yesterday), we were ‘latchkey kids’. We came home from school and then straight out to play football. Called in for a quick tea and then straight back out to kick the ball until we were called in, usually between 9 and 10pm. It was either a big 20-a-side game down the school park or small games in the street. Crossy and World Cup were the favourites. It was jumpers down for goals; street lights for floodlights and tic-tac toe to pick the teams. Today, it is completely different. No wonder everyone laments about the death of street football and how we don’t produce footballers with the technical skills that were learned in street football. Quoting Anders Erikkson and the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. I reckon we spent around 5 hours/ night playing football. So let’s say we take four nights and the weekend adds up to around 30 hours/week. So just doing a quick calculation. We were playing around 1,350 hours annually against the current position of around 200 hours. Therefore, using Eriksson’s theory, we could get mastery in around 7.5 years compared to our current situation, if nothing changed, of 50 years!! Are we now surprised we aren’t producing Jimmy Johnstone’s, Jim Baxter’s and Kenny Dalglish’s today? These players had hit mastery by their mid-teens having come through the grassroots game.

Busyness has won the day with parents timetabling their kids to within an inch of their life. We really need to ask why is this the case? Parents will say it is about giving their kids the best chance and opportunities for a ‘good start in life’ I think we need to take a step back and think ‘Are we really?’ Surely we are trying to help produce happy and relaxed kids instead of pushing them into being stressed, anxious kids always chasing the next shiny thing.Of course, this is a real dichotomy which needs to be effectively managed. My own view is that we have just gone a little too far one way and we need to pull the dial back a bit. Can we allow our kids to opt-out from the packed itinerary and just let them play? When I mean play, I am not talking gadgets like Xbox/PS4 but outside in the fresh air getting skinned knees and muddy trousers!

I firmly believe that time is our most precious resource. We need to use it effectively and we all make daily choices on how we spend it. I just think we need to take a little pause and think how our kids are spending their time. I see a lot of great things happening around me which provide hope for our current generation. Coaches I have mentioned before like John Davies (Renegade Training) and Mark at Pro Skills Coaching are trying to bring street football back. Initiatives like ‘Dribbling to School’ and community football where all ages (including adults) are involved hark bark to our playful past. I know what Judy Murray is doing with tennis to encourage the grassroots game but also just to get kids to play sport and make their own games up. We need more of this unstructured play and less timetabled activities.

At the end of the day, most of what we do doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. We are but a tiny speck in space and time within the universe so let’s not use that time pushing our kids down a road that leads to busyness and unhappiness. Life is too short to be busy, so let’s just get out and let the kids PLAY!!

Too Busy to Play

6 thoughts on “Too Busy to Play

  1. I agree with the sentiment – too much timetabled activity. But why are you training twice per week? Three timetabled slots each week for your players is crowding out something in their lives. Could you turn one of the sessions into a ‘drop-in’ where they just play and you lightly supervise?

    On the other hand, I salute your commitment. Without coaches like you, sons like mine wouldn’t have the chance to develop as footballers. So thank you – for that and this blog.

    Touchline Dad


    1. Thanks for the comments, really appreciated. Yes, could change the sessions but the boys seem to enjoy them. I would like to add more drop-in sessions and just let them play. More street football would be the way to go for me.


  2. People really need to stop talking about the 10,000 hour rule & elite sport. It’s a myth that has even been de-bunked by Ericsson himself as it was never meant to be applied in this context. There’s also a big difference between 10k hours of deliberate practice & 10k hours of unstructured play.


    1. I agree Tony. It is more trying to do the comparison on how many hours were spent playing football in an unstructured way in the past compared to the distractions nowadays. It was too much an opportunity to miss to say it would take 50 years if we only train 4.5 hours per week. I lso agree doing the wrong thing for 10,000 hours will not improve you one bit although it will teach you to do the wrong thing. Really appreciate the comment as I am just looking to improve my knowledge and coaching skills. All feedback id good with me.


  3. Barry says:

    Academies are demanding a lot from the kids/parents and I am not convinced if in the long run it will make a huge difference for example a player could do 8 hours from the age of 6 and another do the same from the age of 12 and is there any guarantee the 6 year old will be streets ahead by the time they are 14. Technique, skills and ball mastery have to be the key elements and I don’t think the clubs take enough responsibility in delivering the training sessions so that these skills and techniques are demonstrated and executed well enough. The expectation the boys will travel 1 hour from their front doors 3-4 per week is farcical and a nonsense. We as a nation are spoiled for football clubs and the majority of our towns have clubs with paid players if we include juniors, where are the coaches? Would a mandatory ratio between paid players and coaches be logical? The community teams popping up are great and getting the kids playing however is the standard high enough and do we too readily accept it is ability based? I would gladly puy my boys for drop in sessions say on a Sunday afternoon it would get them off the xbox but where or would it require yet another direct debit just to make sure their football has exceeded the cost of private membership at the local health spa or Bannantynes.


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