In order for something of quality to take place, an empty space needs to be created. An empty space makes it possible for a new phenomenon to come to life, for anything that touches on content, meaning, expression, language and music can exist only if the experience is fresh and new.—Peter Brook, There Are No Secrets: Thoughts on Acting and Theatre
What is fundamental to the game? What can be removed and still leave us with the experience. Take away the cones, the bibs, the coach, the drills, the changing rooms, player development plan. We can even take away the club. The only thing you need is the players in an empty space with a ball. We should add nothing to it unless it helps.
Experience may well be the greatest teacher of the young. We should do everything to make the experience an enjoyable process. One way to achieve this is by offering what Lynn Kidman refers to as “learning opportunities”. We are facilitators. We guide, we suggest, providing them with the tools to enable them to think about what is happening around them. We build democratic participation. Let them discover the game during childhood so that they can take ownership of it during adolescence. Add nothing unless it helps this process.
In the brilliant book “Se På Spelet!” (See the game) Andreas Alm and Johan Fallby investigate how the best players in the world experience and read the game. How they see different situations unfolding and anticipate them before others do. Backed up by scientific research the book goes on to explain how top players continuously create the best opportunities for themselves to influence the game. How fast a player perceives different information, recognises patterns, predicts and anticipates behaviour of teammates and opponents. How fast this information is processed, a decision is made and an action is carried out give the top players the edge. Using the example of a child crossing a road where perception- action coupling is carried out and spatial awareness is tested, the book suggests that these perceptive qualities of top players can already be developed in early childhood training instead of the more traditional “ball watching” technique drills.
Again we are back to the players in an empty space with a ball. We should add nothing unless it helps the process.
The perceptual abilities thought to differentiate expert and non-expert players include pattern recognition and the ability to predict and anticipate an opponent’s behaviour (Aglioti et al., 2008).
Everything at first seemed very impressive. For 10 year olds they passed and moved with great concentration and purpose. Then I noticed that the players were not even looking around, taking in information or analysing the game as it unfolded before them. They didn’t have to as they already knew where the next pass should go. They knew that a player would run into space or already be there waiting to receive that pass. I came to the realisation that these were all rehearsed movements. There wasn’t really much decision making going on. These patterns of play were obviously rehearsed in a coach controlled environment during training. This is basically rote learning. They had memorised patterns of play without understanding the relationships between these patterns and the actual game. In the short term this makes the performance more effective but I wondered how this would influence their long term development?
Is the experience described above a good learning one or is it a counter-productive ideology? The players were given very little responsibility with regard to decision making. How were they experiencing and discovering the game? Was the experience teaching them anything apart from a short cut to winning? How could they be expected to take control of their own learning? Maybe that was the whole point.
Many think that children can only learn in adult organised environments (school, Organised Sports), what is worse is that kids are now starting to believe it. Modern organised football training at grassroots level needs to step away from its coach led culture and focus on a more player centred one. The easy option is not to have learners as it is a longer process that rarely gives short term results and in the culture of the coach and early specialised elite development programs there is very little patience.
Let them discover the game during childhood so that they can take ownership of it during adolescence.
Children learn a sport best by doing. Knowledge is gained from experience and retained through application. Their intuition is built on how they use that experience where they compare present situations with ones that they recognise from the past and analysing it to come up with the best solution. By creating learning opportunities and allowing the child to discover the game by encouraging them to find their own solutions we also respect that mistakes will be part of the experience. More importantly it is this experience that will develop intuition.
Not all learning is created equal and experience can be a very personal thing.
The only thing you need is the players in an empty space with a ball. We should add nothing to the experience unless it helps.