Summer of Learning (2018) #1 Soccer and World Cup & Learning
Yet again, another World Cup without a Canadian team (and not even the US of A made it) and we look around at other countries….and even other genders (US & Canadian women do quite well) and wonder why our men’s teams aren’t as good in world events.
I want to hate to say it, but in my opinion and observation, there is a common connection to the increase in noticeable anxiety: too much structure and not enough unorganized play.
We have lots of soccer academies in our continent – and leagues stacked on top of leagues – from house to development ($) to select ($$$). All with fees that slowly weed out many potential athletes while bringing in more and more middle+ class kids who don’t have a “hunger” to be excellent. Not that they don’t want to win, but if they don’t they know that there is a support network for them. Kind of like when I chuckle when middle class dance groups try to dance to hip hop and rap – they may like the music but they haven’t lived the culture. There is a disconnect. And we need to include more athletes that “shouldn’t play” because they can’t afford the registration….or the travel obligations….or the matching uniforms because they know that soccer can be their “ticket out” – either to university or to a pro contract (even to an elite academy, but in their mid-teens).
Why have our Women’s programs been successful? Because they’ve been clawing their way to respectability. Often seen as “second to the boys” (I’ve heard many athletic directors arrange preferred practice times and game locations based on gender – and been frustrated by it when coaching/assisting girls teams) many of “the girls” on my daughters team make fun of the boys because they take inspiration from Neymar when a bump (real or imagined) occurs and the girls point to the women in the World Cup with blood and turf over their faces, no cards issued and they play on….
I look around and see so much organization. My last year coaching House with my daughters team (as their skill set began to surpass my knowledge of the game) had me team up with a great role model for the girls. She played ATA high level and knew the ins and outs. And during her practices the girls got good skill development. When I ran them, we still had some standard drills, but I also included “creativity times” where they had to juggle….or flip the ball onto the back of their neck…or something….because so many of the players in the World Cup were doing that when they were ten. They had fun. They were learning how to be creative. They were building unique skills that the academies would later help fine tune -they didn’t wait for a lesson – they play and explore.
The level of soccer organization in North America is affective. It’s probably the level of structures that helped the three biggest countries land the 2026 World Cup – and the connected “host country qualification berths”. But while qualification by bureaucracy may inspire some kids to try harder to qualify in 8 years…I think the way we will qualify more frequent is to help support the times and opportunities where kids can play without adults getting involved. It’s why I like to “accidentally” leave sports balls on fields after school and on weekends.
Talent and love for the game shows up. A kid o used to teach was invited to a WHL hockey draft evaluation camp even though he “only” played house league. For many kids -sports can be a way to see themselves be successful. Basketball and football (even baseball) have been good at breaking down the walls os socio-economics and getting everyone to play. Even though soccer should be like basketball (where all you need is shoes and a ball) it ends up being more like golf where you can only play at certain places and times (and we are in an era where a group of kids playing on a field without an adult being there may result in a phone call to the local police).
Want to win a World Cup? It’s the same as with learning: make it fun. Want kids to succeed in school and sports, let them explore. It doesn’t have to be “all the time” but “drill and kill” does erode enthusiasm for any topic or sport if it goes on long enough.
Oh, and the impact of me emphasizing “play” both at my school and in my house teams meant that even though I think we lost every game – 5 of that squad of 8 are currently playing in Development – in a provincial tournament (another 3 from my school where “play” was heavily encouraged). They’ve all chosen to take part in extra conditioning & skill events…and one of their coaches is the lady I co-coached with and she is continuing the attitude of “having some fun” blended in with the practices.
We gotta be more inclusive and have more fun…otherwise we’ll need to host a lot more events if we hope to qualify – both in sports and in classrooms.