The area is 18sq meters, plenty of space for an impromptu game of football. 1v1, 2v2, 4v4, 3v2 it doesn’t matter. The boy in the Barcelona top is one of the goalkeepers. He frantically throws himself on the concrete to defend his goal. The ball is buzzing around from foot to head to wall to gate. Back-heels, step- overs, volleys, slide tackles. No fear, they don’t have far to fall. The kid in goal grabs a bandy stick (a plastic indoor hockey stick from a game that is popular in Sweden). He has decided that he will combine both football and bandy to stop his opponents from scoring. Nobody bats an eyelid, nobody protests. It’s a great idea. The laughter gets louder as the other goalkeeper, come defender, come forward grabs two bandy sticks and proudly defends his castle like a proud knight/ ninja warrior (or whatever he is today).
This is a sight that greeted me one morning at the local preschool that my daughter attends. These 5 year olds were Inventing games within games.
The bottom line is that this was a natural competitive safe to fail environment created by the kids themselves. It promoted cooperation and creativity, development of fundamental movement skills and most important of all it was fun.
What I was observing was deliberate play, set up and monitored by the kids themselves. This intrinsically motivating activity was designed by the kids to maximise enjoyment and provide the immediate gratification that children seek from play. It all took part in a safe to fail environment where constant evolving game situations encouraged more decisions, more failures and more successes.
Was what I was observing as instrumental in determining future performance, participation and personal development as any structured/ organised practice that will more than likely enter their world sooner rather than later?
Once upon a time street football and free play was the norm. Then we become adults wanted to control it, make it organised and forgot the child in all of us.