It was just like any other night as I made my way up to our training pitch. There was a light swirl of rain reflecting off the glowing floodlights on a cool autumnal evening. As I unpacked my usual bag of balls, bibs and cones and put on my ‘old school’ black Puma Kings, I sensed something very different. As I walked towards the pitch I heard some very different noises. It was the laughter and sense of fun that was emanating from all parts of the pitch.
The pitch was split up but there were no cones. Teams were split up but there were no bibs. Balls were flying about all over the place in a football version of ‘Chaos Theory’ Yes, it was ill-disciplined and unstructured but somehow it felt like a perfect orchestra playing. As I walked through the gates there was a 4 v 4 going on involving boys and girls aged between about 9 and 11. There was another 4 watching and cheering as one of the players did a beautiful panna on his opponent. This move was finished off by a lovely ‘sweaty’ goal. The trigger for the losers to go off and the watching 4 to restart the game.
Just next to them were a group of about 6 or 7 having a game of ‘World Cup’ in the main goals. 3 teams of 2. Not sure of the age but varied between about 11 and 14. There were no bibs but they knew who their team mate was. The intensity was amazingly high.
In the corner beyond this game were a group of boys and girls doing a rondo. There were about 7 on the outside with a couple working hard in the middle. The tricks, flicks and touches were sublime as the ball was zipping about like a pinball machine.
As I averted my eyes up to the halfway line there was a young group playing crossbar challenge. They could only be about 6 or 7 as they struggled to lift the ball to hit the crossbar. The cheers when one achieved their target was like a high-pitched scream which could be heard from well down the road.
The last group I observed were just a bunch of boys and girls with a ball each as they practised their keepy-uppies and were waiting patiently to join in one of the games set up around the pitch. Left-right-left-right. The tap, tap, tap…. was like a military two-step in accordance. I then heard a shout “The first to make 1,000′ wins” The concentration on their faces intensified.
So that was the whole of one half of the pitch being taken up with a variety of games and practices. The other half entailed a full game across the way. It was a bout 8 or 9 a side with goalies and teams with ages from 14 to 18. The pace was incredible and reminded me of a video I saw of the ‘cage’ at Man United’s training ground. You had to earn the right to be on the pitch no matter your age, size or gender. It was full on with continual players joining and leaving. Great play, great goals, great defending it had everything and never stopped. No throw-ins, the ball was straight back in play.
I then left the field with all this activity going on as I was about to take my usual stroll across the car park to go the school entrance I was halted in my tracks. Firstly, I noticed there were no cars! They were replaced by games going on all across the car park. The light was sufficient to produce 3v3 and 4v4 games. Small goals and jumpers were being used for goals. As my detour took me around the car park I noticed two young kids who must have been pre-school playing ‘kerby’ and was immediately transported back to my earliest memories with a ball.
As I entered the school and made my way to the gym hall where a large number of kids were enjoying futsal. The tricks and moves were amazing and again the noise and laughter was resonating around the hall.
After all this activity involving over 100 boys and girls from 4 to 18, I sat down in a quiet space just off the main reception and reflected on what I had just witnessed. The passion, the joy, the intensity, the fun, the laughter, the sheer exuberance of it all put a massive smile on my face and then it struck me. There wasn’t an adult to be seen anywhere. The kids didn’t need any equipment and more importantly they didn’t need any adults to tell them what to do. They worked it out for themselves and they fun and learning they had in doing it was plain for all to see.
As I sat there, I gently roused. I wasn’t in the school after all but had fallen asleep in my car (The long hours clearly taking its toll!). I got out of my car and noticed that various training sessions were going on. Some good stuff, however many line drills and kids waiting to be told what to do. Adult voices bellowing instructions with compliant kids dutifully following. I couldn’t help but think and wonder.
My aim is to challenge our norms and way of doing things. What would you consider to be the best environment for learning, experimentation and development? We all need to ask these questions of ourselves.
There is a common misconception in football that it is a team game and that the players are brought into a club/team to make that team better. I really think it should be the opposite. What can the club do to help the player get better. If we approach it that way then we will see development across the board with everyone getting better. A rising tide lifts all ships!
Could the environment I dreamed of really exist? Can we make it happen? Can we lift all ships?
I leave you with this video. This is my dream. To get Scotland back to a World Cup by building from the ground up. Well we can all dream…..