The Playground in Fuenteabilla
The school playground looked no different to thousands of others around the world.
Located in a small town, it had a concrete basketball court that was turned into a football pitch by the local kids.
On this makeshift surface they kicked a ball until after the sun had set, inventing games, having free kick competitions, penalty shootouts, and practicing the skills that they hoped one day would enable them to play for the big professional clubs.
But this playground in Fuenteabilla, Spain was different to all the other playgrounds in the world.
For on that pitch a small boy, always with a ball at his feet, would turn up and play every day. As an adult he would score the winning goal in a FIFA World Cup Final, guiding Spain to its first global crown, and become a midfield star for Barcelona FC.
His name was Andres Iniesta.
Play and Coaching
The young Andres was well coached – first at Albacete, and then at La Masia, the home of the Barcelona youth academy. But it was the years of unstructured play that built the platform for a wonderful elite career.
The desire to play is at the very core of what it takes to succeed, no matter the discipline.
When you are a kid there are no extrinsic outcomes to playing. No money, no reward of a car or big house – just the unfettered joy of being spontaneous, nailing a trick, and having fun. There is no single goal, rather the opportunity to try things out with peers and enjoy the game.
The journey of Andres Iniesta is not unique. Many top footballers, particularly from South America, grow up having learnt their skills playing street football.
Quality formal coaching is an important part of every young footballer’s development. But this pathway needs to occur in conjunction with self-learning through play either individually, or with friends.
The Opportunity of Summer
With holidays fast approaching, Top Flight footballers will be reminded to take a ball with them wherever they go. The beach, park, playground or backyard are all excellent opportunities to enjoy the game on their own terms before getting back into the swing of Term One training.
Andres Iniesta made that playground in Fuenteabilla famous.
There is no reason a Kiwi kid can’t do the same to an unremarkable patch of grass or concrete here in New Zealand. From humble surrounds, great achievements are born.
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