Play is the source of creativity.
Unstructured play is a missing element in the quest to develop creative players in New Zealand.
So much of the physical activity that children are involved with today, is organized and taught.
This point of view may sound a little counter-intuitive coming from a football academy but it is the reality. Our children need to have the opportunity to spend time with the ball, making their own rules and discoveries.
During training sessions, if children are always being told what to do and when to do it, then they are being robbed of the ability to develop creativity, make sound decisions and problem solve. The end result, is a footballer who lacks the ability to use his / her own initiative and creativity to solve complicated problems, involving space and time in match situations.
It is vital then for their development, that they are regularly exposed to environments, free from adult guidance, which enable them to simply play, take risks, make mistakes and explore their own abilities. By doing this, players develop individualism, football intelligence and flair.
Time alone with a football, knocking it against the wall, juggling and dribbling should also be an important part of any aspiring footballer’s training routine. This type of regular, personal time with the football helps to develop ball control, touch, balance, and coordination.
By learning in an environment with no adult guidance, the only taskmasters are themselves. This can be fantastic in helping young athletes to take responsibility for their own development and for setting small targets to achieve on a regular basis.
People often believe that football is a team sport so training should always be in the team environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Football is for both the individual and the group. It can be structured or not – this flexibility is one of the elements that makes the game so popular globally.
Dennis Bergkamp, the legendary Dutch forward, in the excellent autobiography Stillness and Speed, presents his childhood as endless play, watching for the vagaries of bounce and angles, with a wall and football as his companions. He loved controlling the ball and developed incredible touch and control as a direct result of his individual work with the ball.
All the great players – Maradona, Messi, Ronaldo to name a few, have spent countless hours just playing. Today’s Kiwi children live very structured lives compared to that of their parents. That element of play, of building a connection with the football, is sorely missing in our young players.
Alternatively, loosely formed games with mates – jumpers marking out goal posts, with nothing at stake and no feedback from coaches – creates an environment that focuses on enjoyment.
An unstructured game with no bibs forces a player to lift his or her head and see the face of the person that they are trying to pass to. This ensures players develop both peripheral vision and improves awareness of what is happening around them –essential skills in today’s frenetically paced game.
Recent AUT studies have suggested that unstructured school play results in improved decision-making, problem-solving and social cohesion – all terrific traits for young people. The same outcomes apply to the football environment.
Finding a balance between letting children be children, while receiving expert tuition, will create more exciting footballers over time. This is a goal of Top Flight Football Academy.
Our young generation aged 8-13 years has a real opportunity to become a cohort of dedicated, technically gifted, creative footballers.
For this to happen we need our youngsters to have the opportunity to play and enjoy football on their own terms. Play is vital in allowing our kids to be the very best that they can be.
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