“Imagination”: Part Two

By Tom Turner (Part two of three)

Street Soccer Learning
Youngsters understand very little about the real game. When they begin to play at five or six, they consciously struggle to control the ball in any coordinated way and, invariably, labor to understand even basic ideas about the tactical nature of the game. They might have difficulty stopping the ball with their feet, so they often use their hands. They can be seen stumbling in the wrong direction and they have no appreciation for the lines or the markings on the field. They have little or no use for teammates because they are very egocentric in their thinking.

As these young players start to compete in games with their friends of various ages, they begin to assemble their knowledge slowly and in piecemeal fashion, with observation as their primary mode of learning. They learn how goals are scored and which surfaces of the foot can be used to dribble and kick the ball. They learn to tackle and recover the ball and they learn to find spaces to receive passes from teammates. They learn to move in relation to the ball and to combine with teammates in elementary ways. They learn about boundaries and fouls. Goals are often makeshift from clothing or bags or rocks, and games like “ten goals to half-time and twenty goals to win” often determine the time limit of the street game. Playing with the “star” of the elementary school, or with the big kids on the big field are milestones in a youngsters’ street career.

Significantly, motivated young players as young as six or seven will take time to practice skills that they have observed in others. At first their bodies may not be coordinated enough to successfully use these new skills in games, but they are planting seeds for their own futures. When they are the older, dominant players, the younger players will be the ones falling for their fakes. As they gain experience, they may begin to appreciate that by using their eyes and shoulders and hips and legs they can unbalance or unnerve defenders and buy time to escape a challenge or eek out an opening. Younger and smaller players must learn to adjust to the aggressive play of older or bigger opponents who limit their time and space with the ball and, by the time a street soccer player has reached the age of twelve or thirteen, they will have firmly established both their comfort level with the ball and their basic understanding of the game.

The motivation to play street soccer is found in scoring goals and being involved in the action and the images on television can be vivid and vital. Who would be Claudio today? Which team was USA? Who would be Mia or Michelle or Sissi? Heroes are worshipped by imitation. Emotionally the game is played to emulate and compete and score. There are no coaches or referees or timekeepers or parents. It is young boys and girls in their own world until the calls to return home to the dinner table or bed become too frequent and loud to ignore.

Learning Theory
In our adult world, survival is a matter of habits and routines. We create systems for much of what we do, including getting up, showering and leaving the house in the morning. We create systems for taking care of the lawn, for doing the laundry and for paying the monthly bills. By consciously or unconsciously organizing as much of our lives as possible, we can reduce our stress levels and meet most unexpected challenges. In doing so, we learn a little more about navigating life every day. And so it goes with sport. If a young player has the opportunity to learn the routines of tactical play through small-sided games, they build a repertoire of responses to game situations. As they gain experience, they develop the skill and understanding to play faster; success finds reward in growing confidence. When an unpredictable problem is confronted, the player must either find a solution or learn from the failure in the hope of a better outcome next time. When the numbers are small and the problems are highly repetitive, players can learn solutions in their own time and in their own way. When the numbers are too large, there is too much pressure to experience repetitive success, and frustration can lead to avoidance and eventual withdrawal from the sport.

(Part three of this article to come in next month’s issue).
Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at coaching@oysan.org.

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