Learning in Development: Those who only know about football, don’t know about football

Footblogball pic 1

I recently started the Learning  In Development podcast series together with my good colleagues and friends Mike Whyatt (twitter) and Britain Thomas (twitter)

Over the coming weeks I aim to publish these podcasts on this blog and include some of my own personal notes and refelctions from the discussions.

To kick off, we invited in  Jordi Fernandez (twitter) and Isaac Oriol Guerrero (twitter) from FC Barcelona  as guests. We discussed the culture of coaching, coach education, player development and some of the culturally pervasive beliefs around learning in development that we need to unearth and investigate.

While the aim of this series of podcasts is not to present the ‘silver bullet’ answers, it is hoped that after listening we will leave these discussions with better questions (I know that I certainly have).


Apple Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/session-design-planning-paradigm/id1507378548?i=1000471078827


  1. Challenging a culturally dominant planning paradigm that underpins many coach education programs around the world.
  • Coach decides the theme, breaks the session up in to fragments, decides how long each part will be and their sequential order
  • Can liberating coaches from these culturally resilient paradigms improve coach development and ultimately player development?
  • Are we over structuring our sessions? How much is too much? Are theme-based sessions giving away the answer?


A training session is just the expression of the coach and what he thinks his role is.

How the coach does a session is an emergent behavior of all the influences of context, of culture of society that ends up with me doing this as a coach. We need to understand how the role of the coach is perceived and why it’s perceived this way in this very context.

Most coaches have the intention of, “I am going to session to train solutions”. The coach’s planning, design, timing, interventions will therefore be related to their intentions, to the idea of “I am the provider of solutions

If we understand that coaches have a bigger impact in society, a bigger impact in the development of the child and that there is nothing measurable in front of you,  yet right now they measure what happens in the weekend (the result).

If we develop a context where these coaches see that the actual impact happens in 5 years’ time or even longer, that might change the mentality of the coach, and then the coach can attune him/herself to new possibilities within that session. If we change that lens from how the coach watches the session or sees his/her role then we can change many of thise things.


  1. Explicit top down game models being introduced earlier and earlier, where the coach gets the kids to practice predetermined passing patterns that they regurgitate in competitive games. Are children therefore only learning a model of the game as opposed to the game?


In the pay to play model (USA, Canada) there are parent expectations that are underpinned by what their understanding of what coaching is. So. a more passive coach may be viewed as someone that is not coaching. Coaches do identify themselves as providers of solutions.

Within each team there can be 20 different game models because of the players.

For us the most important thing is to observe the natural behavior of the players. In our work we try to use certain constraints around elements of space and time so that we can be open to observe the natural behaviour of the player. If we are very focused on one game model then we are only focusing on pre-determined established model for the player (a one size fits all approach).


  1. Should coaches see themselves as designers (architects of an environment)? The first feedback to the players should come from the session design and how the players interact (with information) informs the coach how he interacts with the learning space to add value.


We have to challenge the status quo especially with regard to the idea of what feedback is. We of course need to change this.

Can we design context to create situations where the player decides so that they can connect their intentions with actions?  This requires patience as the player has to analyse their own feelings and emotions and we cannot be judging their actions too early. (players need to be given the opportunity to learn how to self-regulate their behaviours)

What coaches are doing with players is more or less what governing sports bodies, or federations or coach education institutions are doing with the coaches. It all comes with the culture of certainty and needing control. If we change the paradigm but implement it the same way that we have always done then we will probably still have the same issues.

It is not just the player that is learning, the coach is also learning and serving the community. We need an approach from both directions so that we are able to act on what is in front of us and not on what is established or what we think is right or wrong.

We can possibly learn more (about football) from attending a seminar on culture than one given by a professional coach

Those who only know about football, don’t know about football(Cesar Menotti)

  1. Football Interactions

The action is something that is isolated, when you are doing interactions, you are doing something because of your teammates and opponents. These interactions are situational, and also framed by cultural


  1. Learning is an active, ongoing process that happens in development

The role of the coach is to optimize their players, through their own optimisation (the coaches own learning in development).

Language that you use in your club material, in your daily interactions, can help your coaches to adjust their lens

The cultural context (for good and bad) plays a part in inviting  certain coach behaviours that we see today


RIP Bill Withers


From Fundamental to Functional: Investigating the Concept of Physical Literacy

If we are to embrace the concept of Physical Literacy, then it should be viewed not as an end point, but presented as a journey influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints imposed upon an individual

PL PIC 2020-01-03 at 17.51.26

” There is a lack of any empirical evidence related to PL. And this is undermined by the fact that nobody can agree what it means. So, all of the claims should be treated as conjectural. In practice, the claims made about PL and health are based entirely on claims made about fundamental movement skills and health”. (Richard Bailey)

We can view health and wellbeing as a dynamic constant changing state that is multidimensional in nature. While research has largely supported the idea of physical activity as a means for young people to develop physically and psychosocially, we lack the direct empirical evidence connecting the concept of physical literacy with health outcomes. Therefore, the only way that physical literacy can influence health outcomes is via its impact on physical activity, where rich interactions between the individual and the environment across varied movement contexts invite different opportunities or affordances for action. So, if the concept of physical literacy is to be woven into health education, sport and recreation, in both policy and practice, then it needs to be positioned in order to take in to account various multi-level biological psychological, social, cultural, historical and environmental influences. If we are to embrace the notion of Physical Literacy, it should not be viewed as end point, but presented as a journey influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints imposed upon an individual



Physical Literacy is not a new term, it has been referenced as early as the 1900’s and again in the 1950’s (Corbin, 2016, p.15). The term has gained increased attention within physical education, sport and public health literature, evolving to mean different things to different people in different contexts (Young, O’Connor & Alfrey, 2019). Broadly speaking ‘literacy’ means becoming educated (Richards, 2016, p.1). Lounsbery and McKenzie (2015) identified the similarity of the terms “physically literate” and “physically educated” and, from a definitional perspective, found little difference. Hardman (2011) suggested that a physically educated person is a physically literate person. Often referred to in metaphor form, likening movement fluency with language literacy (Jurbala, 2015), the term physical literacy has lacked a clear theoretical foundation, enabling various interpretations and definitions of the term. Young, O’Connor and Alfrey (2019) have suggested that over time, it is likely that physical literacyhas progressively evolved into something it originally was not. This adaption of numerous definitions and interpretations across different countries, disciplines and organisation (Shearer et al., 2018), has arguably led to a lack of consensus as to how to employ it in practice (Hyndman & Pill, 2018; Jurbala, 2015).

Despite lacking direct empirical evidence connecting it to health outcomes (Cairney et al., 2019), many involved in youth sports programming, policy making and physical education are rallying around physical literacy and promoting it globally (Young, O’Connor & Alfrey, 2019; Jurbala, 2015).

Physical education in the United Kingdom provided the platform for the emergence of the original conceptualisation of physical literacy (Whitehead, 2001). Margaret Whitehead first discussed the term in a 1993 paper (Whitehead 1993, August). More recently she has defined physical literacy as ‘the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and engage in physical activity for life’ (IPLA, 2017). As a concept it has gained traction in recent years in both academic and nonacademic domains (Allan., Turnnidge, & Côté, 2017) and has been adopted into sport systems in North America (Roetert & Jefferies, 2014). It has been highlighted as an important component of physical activity and sports programs, often underpinned by the assumption that sport represents an ideal means for positive development among youth. While research has largely supported sport as a means for young people to develop physically and psychosocially, leading to success within sport and other domains in life (Allan., Turnnidge, & Côté, 2017), it should also be understood that participation in sport does not necessarily guarantee positive outcomes (Fraser- Thomas, Côté, & Deakin, 2005).

Publications on physical literacy are often produced by government funded organisations and departments (Lynch, 2019, p.78), and in general are underpinned by the strong correlation in the research evidence between health and physical activity (Lynch, 2013). Interestingly, children in countries that promote physical literacy (USA) are according to Curran (2014) “among the unhealthiest in the world” (UNICEF, 2007), which suggests how the concept of physical literacy is implemented may be a form of reactive panic rather than proactive, strategic forward planning (Lynch, 2019, p.50).So, while the concept of physical literacy is beginning to become part and parcel of many national physical education programs, what is not so clear is how practitioners might be advised to deliver its well-meaning aims (Roberts, Newcombe & Davids, 2018).

Despite lacking empirical evidence how it can be employed to stimulate participation or be a functional basis for activity programs, interest in physical literacy among sport and physical activity practitioners and policy makers continues to rapidly grow (Jurbala, 2015). In the Netherlands physical literacy has been promoted as a stepping stone to elite performance (Way et al., 2014, p. 23), while in Canada as “the cornerstone of both participation and excellence in physical activity and sport” (Way et al., 2014, p. 23). In the UK physical literacy has been described as an aim that every child needs to achieve (Sport England, Strategy, 2016), framing physical literacy as a set of capabilities or achievements. This can be seen in the stage- based models of motor development that underpin many government sports policy programs. These policies are seemingly grounded in the hypothesis of a causal chain of increased motor skill, where early mastery of fundamental movement skills (FMS) are viewed as a prerequisite for increased activity, development of complex sport skills or improved physical fitness. However, Holfelder and Schott (2014) argued that while high levels of FMS relate to higher levels of physical activity among children, they are of low predictive value for level of activity in adults. They further suggested that there is a need to consider the multifactorial complexity of development of movement skills such as, perceived competence, socio-economic status and others (Holfelder & Schott, 2014, p. 389).


Physical Literacy: What’s in a Name

In a commentary on physical activity and health (2016), Thomas L. McKenzie and Monica A. F. Lounsberyreferred to a lack of consensus with regard to what constitutes physical literacy. If international physical activity/fitness experts are uncertain what physical literacy is, how can we expect policy makers, school teachers, coaches and the public to clearly define it? McKenzie and Lounsbery (2016, p. 1) asked the question “What’s in a name? Is physical literacy simply a rose by any other name?”.They argue that, as many cannot discriminate among terms such as physical activity, physical fitness, and physical education, adding yet another term (physical literacy) may only add to the confusion


Physical Literacy: What’s in a Metaphor

This metaphor of likening movement literacy with language literacy (Jurbala, 2015), is in itself problematic. It has promoted in the media the notion that children should be taught physical literacy in the same way that they learn to read and write (see here). Designed to appeal to educators and policy makers (Jurbala, 2015), the metaphor arguably captures the dumbing down of the concept of physical literacy, something which Almond (2013) has criticised. Like click bait to capture public attention, the metaphor also positions physical literacy as a testable and measurable phenomenon which seemingly influences how it is being carried out in practice. This highlights a tendency to over-simplify, by promoting the view of body-as-object (Lloyd, 2012) using generic assessments of physical literacy (Tremblay & Lloyd, 2010), that reflect the traditional standardised testing of reading and writing. Lundvall and Tidén (2013) identified similar conflicts with physical literacy in practice in the Swedish PE curriculum, noting the need for approaches to move away from the traditional normative assessment where students are catagorised, towards the development of embodied knowledge, where learners learn to reflect on their development and potential.


Different Perspectives on Physical Literacy

Definitions of physical literacy have seemingly resulted in an oversimplification of the concept (Whitehead, 2010), bringing about an unsatisfactory reductionist application of physical literacy in practical settings (Roberts, Newcombe & Davids, 2018). For example, physical education content being based primarily on the development of fundamental movement skills and little else. In the light of this, Almond (2013) called for a broader discussion to clarify what is implied by associating fundamental movement skills with physical education. However, some value has been placed on Whitehead ‘s own definition (Edwards et al. 2017),which has been refined over the years from its original definition in 2001.

As appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition to capitalize on the human embodied capability, wherein the individual has the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life course. (Whitehead, 2013, p. 29)


According to Allan and colleagues (2017), physical literacy can be viewed from two different perspectives: (i) The holistic approach (Whitehead, 2001), and (ii) the performance- orientatedapproach, where physical literacy principles are implemented within the programming of curriculums for national sports organisations (Higgs, 2010). Whitehead’s holistic approach (2001) to physical literacy conceptualises all human conditions as an integrated whole, focusing on the embodied dimension of human existence through enriching experience (Whitehead, 2007).This promoted the notion of embodiment, emphasising the inextricable relationship between mind and body, thus rejecting the Cartesian view of mind and body as separate entities. In contrast the delivery of physical literacy within North American sport programming focused almost exclusively on the body and performance (Roberts, Newcombe & Davids, 2018). Whitehead took the stance that human potential can be achieved through rich interactions between the individual and the environmentand sport represents just one context in which embodied capacities are both challenged and celebrated (Whitehead, 2001, 2007).  So, physical literacy should be seen as a journey (Green et al. 2018) extending beyond sport and physical education, throughout an individual’s lifespan (Whitehead and Murdoch, 2006)

The performance-oriented approach that has seemingly been favoured by governing bodies, is concerned with the mastery of movement skills as building blocks for more complex skills throughreductionism and thedecontextualisation of movements from the environment (e.g., Lloyd, 2011).It has been suggested that this approach aligns closely with the concept of deliberate practice(Allan, TurnnidgeandCôté, 2017).As suggested by Roberts, Newcombe and Davids (2018), these reductionist approaches, with an over-reliance on fundamental movement skills have been a barrier to the development of a complex dynamic and embodied understanding of the individual physical literacy journey. Whitehead’s (2007) holistic approach argued for a move away from these types of curriculaand strategies, promoting diverse interactions with the environment delimited by individual constraints, cultural norms and opportunities to interact with the environment (Whitehead, 2013).


Health and physical activity

This strong correlation between health and physical activity in the research is influential in how policy makers construct their programs in response to various health problems. For instance, Quennerstedt, Burrows and Maivorsdotter (2010) suggested that Health Education is guided by obesity discourses, which is now recognised as a world-wide problem (Cale & Harris, 2019). Anarina Murillo and David B. Allison (2016)when contributing to a discussion on obesity asked the question: “Are there any successful policies and programs to fight overweight and obesity? (2016)”. They argued that public policies dealing with this matter despite the best of intentions, might have limited success if these programs do not take in to account the social norms, values and culture of the targeted community. This, as highlighted by Rogers and Collins (2012), signifies a need to determine which programs have proven successful and for whom. So, despite many efforts at the local, national, and international levels, there is little evidence that existing programs are both effective and sustainable.

Lynch and Soukup (2016) have previously highlighted a problem regarding physical education practice and policies. They argued that many discourses have been underpinned by the idea of the “body as an object”, an ideology that has been referred to as ‘healthism’. This has led to the perception of health problems as individual problems that can be unproblematically dealt with through individual effort and discipline (Crawford, 1980), while failing to recognise the social and environmental influences. It has previously been argued that healthism can form a belief that caused guilt for those who do not fit the “exercise = fitness = health idea (Kirk & Colquhoun, 1989).


Health andPhysical Literacy

In 2012, Vandorpe et al. (2012) claimed that there is no direct empirical test of the effect of physical literacy on health. However, in recent years there seems to be increasing interest in physical literacy in the field of public health [Dudley, Cairney, Kriellaars,  Mitchell, 2017].  Cairney and colleagues (2019) presented a model of physical literacy as a determinant of health, with the aim ofstimulatingincreased discussion and further empirical research.They identified a need to open up to a broader perspective regarding the links between education and health at a population level. The example question they posed; “what community-based infrastructure is needed to support diverse and meaningful movement-based experiences for children?”- echoes the need for a more holistic and culturally sensitive approach to the implementation of physical literacy in government funded programs.

Acknowledging that health behaviour is closely related to social and cultural factors” (Ruskin, Fitzgibbon, & Harper, 2008), recognises the interactions between many dimensions (physical, social, emotional and mental) and that health is dynamic, a constantly changing state (QSCC, 1999). Therefore, when promoting wellbeing it has been proposed that we need to view it as multidimensional in nature (OECD, 2017). This implies that curriculums (and strategies) regarding youth development, need to be connected to the child’s world and everyday interests (Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett, & Farmer, 2015), “where children are learning through their interactions, as well as adopting and working through the rules and values of their own cultural group” (Arthur et al., 2015, pp. 99–100).


We can view health and wellbeing as a dynamic constant changing state that is multidimensional in nature. While research has largely supported the idea of physical activity as a means for young people to develop physically and psychosocially (Lynch, 2013), we lack the direct empirical evidence connecting physical literacy with health outcomes (Cairney et al., 2019). Therefore, the only way that physical literacy can influence health outcomes is via its impact on physical activity, where rich interactions between the individual and the environment across varied movement contexts invite different opportunities or affordances for action. Physical literacy as suggested by Jurbala (2015), should be viewed as an avenue to reject traditional approaches to skill development, where it has often been viewed as a brief window of opportunity instead of as a journey throughout a lifespan that extends beyond organised sports and physical education.Therefore, we should view ‘skill learning’ as a dynamic and developmental phenomenon, where, as argued by Clarke (1995, p.173), “we understand that we cannot limit our focus to one period in the life span, or to tasks that are not rich in context and complexity and real in their adaptive significance. Motor skill behaviour changes over a life span and it is that window that ultimately provides the view”.

If the concept of physical literacy is to be woven into health education, sport and recreation, in both policy and practice, then it needs to take in to account that learner’s individual differences, movement preferences and nonlinear rates of development are as much a function of social milieu in which they have developed as their physiology, anatomy or psychology (Uehara, 2014). This calls for a shift in perspectives, from ‘fundamental’ to ‘functional’. From the pursuit of the reductionist application of physical literacy (Roberts, Newcombe & Davids, 2018), to one which facilitates the emergence of greater functional relationships between the learner/individual and the environment (Renshaw & Chow, 2018).


Main points

  • There is a lack the direct empirical evidence connecting physical literacy with health outcomes
  • Despite this, interest in physical literacy among sport and physical activity practitioners and policy makers continues to rapidly grow.
  • What is not so clear is how practitioners might be advised to deliver its well-meaning aim
  • The metaphor of likening physical literacy with language literacy is problematic. This has positioned physical literacy as a testable and measurable phenomenon which influences how it is being carried out in practice.
  • This has led to an oversimplification of the concept bringing about an unsatisfactory reductionist application of physical literacy in practical settings with an over reliance stage- based models
  • This has been a barrier to the development of a complex dynamic and embodied understanding of the individual physical literacy journey.
  •  Despite lacking direct empirical evidence, many involved in youth sports programming, policy making and physical education are rallying around physical literacy and promoting it globally.
  • For physical literacy to influence health outcomes it needs to impact on physical activity,
  • Sports governing bodies, policy makers, sports clubs, coaches and coach education need to promote and facilitate rich interactions between the individual and the environment across varied movement contexts that invite different opportunities or affordances for action.
  • Physical Literacy should not be viewed as end point, but presented as a journey influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints imposed upon an individual


Quiz question: Who had a huge hit with a cover of this song?


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Johan Fallby-As many as possible, as long as possible, in the best environment possible

“I am often surprised when I compare child and youth environments and see the stress that occurs there, with the real elite environments of adult sport. I myself have been involved in preparations for European Championship and World Cup games in table tennis and soccer with both the senior and junior national teams and with club teams. Unfortunately there is way more stress evident in child and youth sport” (Johan Fallby Footblogball interview December 2015)


Johan Fallby is Sport Psychologist at premier Danish soccer club F.C. Copenhagen. (http://www.fck.dk/) He is an ex professional table tennis player, representing Sweden at youth, junior and senior level. Johan is also the author of five books, two of which have proved to be a big influence on my learning process and coaching journey. Se på spelet (See the play) co-written with Andreas Alm and published in 2011 is about game intelligence in football and  Spelarutveckling- Ett helhetsperspektiv (Player development- A holistic perspective) was published in 2004. Both books are included on the Swedish FA Coach education courses.

His new book ”Gör det bättre själv om du kan” (Do it better yourself if you can) has just been published.


According to the IOC consensus statement (see here) the ‘culture’ of specific sports and youth sports in general, has become disproportionately both adult and media centrred. It seems that there is much within our adult organised competitive systems that no longer meet the physical and emotional needs of the child in sport. What is required here (and is missing from many discussions on youth sport) is the education of adults with regard to the child in sport. Johan Fallbys new book “Gör det bättre själv om du kan” (Do it better yourself if you can) reaches deep into the heart of these discussions. Aimed mainly at parents the book is also a great reference point for coaches, clubs and governing bodies. While putting to bed a few myths, Fallby discusses the nuances and complexities of youth development in sport, the factors that impinge on this development and how parents can become more informed so that they can understand and deal with these complexities.

Johan Fallby: Thank you for inviting me to be part of your blog. First I want to make it clear where I stand in relation to the purpose of this book. For me the emergence of many high quality elite athletes from Sweden is of great importance. If we are to achieve this I hope that I can contribute by helping to develop the level of competence within our sporting organisations. This is one of the key factors in relation to the process of continually developing elite performers. In this process the role of parents and coaches are of extreme importance. So the book is a guide in how to strengthen competence in clubs and sporting organisations by clarifying the role of parents and providing the tools to help clubs and organisations move in a positive direction. For we know that the coach and the parent are often the same person in both child and youth sports.

I have also created a Facebook page called “idrottsföräldrar” (sports-parents) that I hope will help spread ideas, thoughts and knowledge to sports of all levels in Sweden. I hope to reach out to associations, governing bodies, coaches, leaders, parents. If we are many it will be easier to spread the information and ideas.

It is also important to me that both science and my practical and personal experience can stand up well to the motto “as many as possible, for as long as possible, in the best environment possible”. With regard to soccer even during the early teenage years, we cannot predict who is going to be the best. Many things start to happen and it is not until after 20 years of age do we find out who has survived the journey to elite level. That is ten years, plus the glorious years of child football!

For this reason, I can see with very good support from both practical experience and science that early specialisation is not the most effective way to reach the elite level. It is a fairly complex discussion. At the same time I want to emphasise that it actually requires a large amount of playful sporting activities, different types of training at different ages and competitive experience in order to become proficient. What the book brings up is how we can do this because the likelihood of an elite career, or a child growing up developing good exercise behavior and habits should be as high as possible.

The debate around the child in sport has many different opinions. However, I stand firm in my approach, both practically and scientifically. For me it is important that it is easy in practice to take in the knowledge that will help us to develop sensible and reasonable sporting environments. That’s the goal!

Finally, I would also point out that discussions dealing with precisely these issues often become emotionally charged, negative and problem focused. However we should always remember that there are many clubs, coaches, managers and parents out there who are incredibly talented. With this book and the Facebook page I hope to give them more room to provide input and the possibility to influence the debate.

Footblogball: On first read what I am getting from this book is that you are giving us tools to help create a culture of trust within the child’s organised sports environment. If we (child, parent, coach, club) can trust each other in terms of a common purpose then many possibilities open up. Would you agree?

Johan Fallby: Absolutely! It is about creating an environment that consists of cooperation and trust. If all the people around the child send the same message, it is easier for the child to sort out and interpret. Within this cooperation there should also be opportunities for the child to take their own initiative, their own responsibility and pursue their own development. This means that the role of both coach and parent can differ from the traditional one that many expect from a sporting environment. I want to see the coaches, leaders, parents and children / athletes work together by creating a network that pulls in the same direction. In this way, children will be challenged at the right level and the opportunities to develop them into elite athletes in adulthood will increase. A positive experience in the early sporting environment also increases the possibility of the development of healthy exercise habits and behaviours for life. So there is no contradiction at play if the sports environment is based on sound principles of what children and young people are about. Unfortunately we often see child sport environments based on other principles  and these are rarely examined or analysed properly from either a talent development perspective or a from a public health perspective.

“Be strong and work to eliminate this culture and ignorance from your club. Be curious and find out more about how a sports environment should look like for your child”.

Footblogball: The biopsychosocial differences between children as they grow have a major influence on their readiness to learn and develop. Development is very delicate and sensitive in the sense of how vulnerable and fragile performance, confidence and self-image can be for the growing and developing young learner. Let’s not forget that this all takes place in what is fast becoming an increasingly prestigious area of sport. Children do not develop in a linear fashion-we need to SUPPORT this. How would you suggest that a parent supports and communicates with the child with regard to this?

Johan Fallby: You should make it as easy and as practical as possible. There are five points that I consider to be crucial for parents in relation to children’s sport and development.

  1. It has been shown that the importance of parents as to how children in general come into contact with sports is relatively large. Therefore parents should ensure that their child comes in contact with a sporting environment that is also actively a playful one so that the child gets to experience how much fun it is to use their body through various physical activities.
  2. Once they are in contact with the sport, I think it is important that they are involved in creating a pleasant and positive environment along with the other parents. Make contact and create a network around the kids. If kids see that their parents feel comfortable in the environment this will increase their sense of security and in all likelihood help spread a feeling of joy. When the child is gripped by the sport and think it is fun you can start placing reasonable demands on the child.
  3. So the third point is that the child should be encouraged to always try to do their best (in relation to their age, maturity etc). For example, to “fight” well and fairly, try new things and experiment while playing the sport. Listening to the coach and collaborating with teammates are also an important part of the sport and their development. Sometimes it may be appropriate to tell the child to go to training even though they feel a bit tired. Depending on the age it can also be about getting them to pack their own bag for training, get them to learn to take responsibility.

I would like to point out that the “demands” I refer to are not about being better than others, making the most goals or winning, nor is it that the child should practice constant, or exercise more than others.

  1. I would like to stress that there should not be a focus on results. In fact the opposite. For the purpose of developmental it is best if parents do not engage in comparing their child with others. Each child has their own individual development curve and the most important thing is that as early as possible we help create a climate that can develop the child’s self-determination and motivation.
  2. The fifth point is about observing the club that the child is in. If it’s an unhealthy environment should you as parents try to influence the environment in a better direction or just leave the environment? It may, in serious cases involve physical or mental abuse but more than often it is down to bad leadership where the environment may be built on early specialisation or exclusion policies. Parents should avoid being caught up in the frenzy. There is very little to suggest that it would be of benefit to your child. Be strong and work to eliminate this culture and ignorance from your club. Be curious and find out more about how a sports environment should look like for your child.

Remarkably often I think parents who have themselves been really good (now I’m talking about the finest elite athletes in sport) understand that they should take it easy and support their child in a relaxed sensible and correct manner. It is probably because they themselves often experienced their parents in a similar way.

Footblogball: If we consider what for me are two very important themes in the book. The creation of a Motivational climate and the social integration of systems, the integration of organisational systems (family, team, sporting organisations, governing bodies, communities, cultures).How they interact and shape development should not be underestimated. The young player’s development process does not happen in a vacuum.      

How can parents play a role in these domains to aid the child’s development of pro social behaviors (kind, generous, tolerant) and pro- learning attitudes (resilient, collaborative, creative)?

Johan Fallby: This question I think is related to the previous one. The basis of everything is for me to create a climate of self-determination and motivation in coordination with a good network around the sport. It will, together with the coaches and leaders create a positive environment and guide the child so that it will find its place in the sports environment and reinforce positive behaviors. Combined with a focus on performance it means that the environment is relaxed, safe and inspiring. This is also how good behaviours get strengthened. People thrive in these environments. This is how “easy” it is!

I am often surprised when I compare child and youth environments and see the stress that occurs there with the real elite environments of adult sport. I myself have been involved in preparations for European Championship and World Cup games in table tennis and football with both the senior and junior national teams and with club teams. Unfortunately there is way more stress, induced by grown-ups evident in child and youth sport. Why this is so is actually incomprehensible to me. It is from the “safe environment” that emerge our strongest “winners”. Anyone who believes that it is done by “survival of the fittest” should think again and try for example, to create a motivational climate instead. They will be surprised how effective it is.

In this case, I also hope that parents can help by creating an environment based on these principles. Get involved and influence the club to work with more modern methods if they discover that the system is still based on the negative aspects of early specialisation or exclusion. This is not an effective system. This is actually what the book is about in a practical way. It is important that somewhere science meets practice and that it will be helpful when transferred on to the pitch.

Footblogball: Can you please comment on the following quotes with reference to you book

“It is the societal expectations through professional sport that has screwed up our focus on learning and development of children in sport”-Lynn Kidman

Johan Fallby: Agree with this. It is above all ignorance in several areas which allow for many environments to work with methods that are not effective. People in all environments confuse growing children and youth sport with professional adult sport. It should be remembered that it takes tremendous effort to become an elite athlete. This should be respected, you do not rush it. Those who work long-term and are persistent increase their opportunities.

“Children see the sport and activity and how it is managed, coached and reflected in the club. Like their family backgrounds, they accept what they experience as the norm – so we need to ensure that the agendas and complexities of adults when ‘running’ clubs do not affect them”- Dr Martin Toms

Johan Fallby: Children will always be influenced by what they see around them. How parents and coaches act is interpreted by kids as how things actually are. When adults don’t understand what is best, how can we expect the kids to understand? We will always get a response from children based on what we ourselves have taught them through our behaviour and actions.

I find it interesting that the problem stems from the so-called “social desirability”. Parents and coaches may say that they do not incite and stress, but in their behaviour you can see it clearly. They cannot understand this because of what has become the social norm. Similarly, the children always defend their parents and often their coaches as they are conditioned in to this system. Children will never stand up and say that enough is enough with regard to early specialisation. They do not even know what it means. Therefore, we need adults to take responsibility to promote a healthy sports environment. And of course we should not be too concerned that by doing this, elite athletes will emerge and go on to take World Championship Gold in the future.

. “….there is a significant conflict between how children learn and how elite programmes operate. Until very recently, talent development programmes were designed without any reference or consideration to healthy development, and treated children like mini adults.  Let’s be honest, though, most elite sports programmes are not designed to meet children’s needs; they are designed entirely for adult ambitions”- Richard Bailey

Johan Fallby: It is often the less instantly recognisable environment that is best. If I remember correctly, Richard Bailey has also said that of all the “talent environments” that he has researched or read research on, that not one meets the criteria suggested by practical and scientific research today. There is simply a lack of knowledge. This is also my experience. The environment that beats its chest claiming to be a “talent factory” is usually a high risk environment. As they say, empty barrels make the most noise.

As a parent, I would be careful with regard to what environment I place my child in to. If your child wants to go far in their sport, they will spend many hours in training and competition. Therefore, I would put my child in the environment that truthfully, ethically and morally provides the best opportunities for development. That’s like choosing schools today. Do you want to choose a school where teachers have a lack of knowledge use old pedagogical methods and exclude children who at that moment in their development perform below average? Or, do you feel better about choosing a school that uses scientific evidence and best practice, educated teachers, and individual teaching plans? The answer is evident to me.  That is the choice you can make for your child.

The book is at present only available in Swedish. There are plans for an English version.