analyzing street soccer yourself, you will conclude that its strength is that
it is played daily in a competitive form, with a preference for the match on all
sorts of 'street playing fields', usually in small groups. Rarely in street soccer
do you see youths busy practicing isolated technical and tactical drills. No,
it is always the competitive form, where youth players learn from their mistakes,
unconscious of the technical, tactical, mental and physical qualities they are
developing through the scrimmages being played.
every day ensures this development. It is a process where it is not necessary
for adults to be present. You also learn the team tactical principles without
effort through playing the game. Your teammate, higher in the street soccer hierarchy,
forces you to comply...
In African and South American countries,
where the conditions for street soccer are favorable, you can immediately notice
that youth players have a head start. They go through a more varied technical
and tactical development within their own experiences. Therefore, the "feeling"
for the game is also better. They find their motivation on the street to play
the games over and over again, no matter how simple they are. Even if there is
only a wall at their disposal... 6
is an argument that street soccer today is no longer possible. "Automobiles
now drive where games were once played. The playgrounds are used as hangouts for
older youth with other interests. Open grass fields are now dog parks. The conditions
for street soccer in many countries are less than ideal." 6
Add bicycle unfriendly suburbs, the need for permits to use public
fields, the managed schedules that most children have today and spontaneous play
of any kind, let alone street soccer is hard to imagine.
spite of all of these obstacles, which are solvable, there's another reason why
street soccer doesn't enjoy the same popularity as pick up basketball.
In his book, How Soccer Explains
The World, Franklin Foer observes:
for all the talk of freedom, the sixties parenting style had a far less laissez-faire
side too. Like the 1960's consumer movement which brought American car seatbelts
and airbags, the soccer movement felt like it could create a set of rules and
regulations that would protect both the child's body and mind from damage. Leagues
like the one I played in handed out "participation" trophies to every
player, no matter how few games his (or her) team won... Where most of the world
accepts the practice of heading a ball as an essential element of the game, American
soccer parents have fretted over the potential for injury to the brain. An entire
industry sprouted to manufacture protective headgear... Even though very little
medical evidence supports this fear, some youth leagues have prohibited headers
This reveals a more fundamental difference between
American youth soccer and the game as practiced in the rest of the world. In every
other part of the world, soccer's sociology varies little: it is the province
of the working class... Here, aside from the Latino immigrants, the professional
classes follow the game most avidly and the working class couldn't give a toss
about it. Surveys, done by sporting goods manufacturers, consistently show that
children of middle class and affluent families play the game disproportionately...
That is, they come from the solid middle class and above.
youth soccer in America it is very difficult to argue with Foer's
assessment that it is solidly a middle class sport. And the middle class brings
it's values into the picture. Middle class values don't see street soccer as a
legitimate educational method. It is recess as opposed to physical education.
Children need to be taught and teaching should be done by experts. Few would argue
that over the last 30 years children are being "taught" almost everything
at increasingly younger ages. Soccer instruction now begins with four year
olds, so that the children will have an advantage as six year olds. This need
to get ahead brings with it the fear of falling behind and the need for accountability
that only expert instruction can prevent and provide. This type of instruction
leaves no room for the trial and error system of street soccer. Middle class values
are in conflict with the basic ideas behind a street soccer culture. The following
are a few ideas that demonstrate the conflict between the two.
of those basic ideas in the street soccer culture is that you are assigned a role
by a better player and are expected to play it for the good of the team, see Michels
above. Such an assignment runs counter to the idea that every child needs to learn
every position. This democratization of the team, where everyone is a jack of
all trades and a master of none, is best achieved by an adult outside of the game
itself. A responsible individual, (the coach) that can ensure that each individual
child's needs are being met at every moment. In street soccer you fill the position
that you are best suited for at the moment in the context of the team. While this
position can change from game to game and team to team the purpose is always the
same, to get the best out of each individual possible at the moment.
brings up another difference. In street soccer children have to learn patience,
to wait for their turn, that they are not entitled to lead, make decisions or
even be listened to simply because they show up. Leadership is earned through
competition within the pecking order inside of the team. Younger players in street
soccer would wait their turn when they would finally be able to lead the group,
and there are no guarantees. In the democratization of the soccer children don't
have to learn patience, they are guaranteed their turn their time in the spot
light. Whether it's a turn to be captain, to play center
forward or to take a shot at goal middle class children learn that hard work and
patience aren't really necessary.
Not only does everyone get
a chance, but no one fails. The mantra, "Everyone's a winner, no ones a loser"
is a benchmark in recreational soccer. The idea is to help build every individuals
positive self esteem. No one can leave the game or practice feeling bad. In street
soccer every game resulted in a winner and a loser and every one knew who was
who. Failure was a common experience, as it is in life, and children learned early
on how to handle the disappointments. Children learned self respect instead of
A huge difference here is that in street soccer
no standings are kept. You can lose this morning and win in the afternoon. Disappointment
is only temporary and is forgotten within minutes of the end of the match. But
in today's soccer society standings can be kept and the failures are cumulative.
They are carried along all season. An eight year old will be reminded in November
about a game they lost in September and how important that is.
emphasis on self esteem brings up another difference between the cultures. If
there really are no losers then why try at all? Since giving less then your best
receives the same reward as giving your best why go to any extra effort? The implication
for children is that mediocrity is acceptable and makes developing soccer skills
a moot point. (Coaches often complain that getting children motivated is one of
their biggest problems.) The bar of acceptance is set to the lowest common denominator
and the children in the top percentage will be affected the most. In street soccer
it's peers that will decide what is and isn't acceptable and it will be based
on each players contribution to the game. Nothing politically correct here but
an honest assessment from those that it matters most to. (Children can be cruel
and lack good judgment about how to express themselves. This can be especially
true when there is too big a gap in the levels of talent.
But with proper guidance they can learn some basic lessons about relationships,
such as working together with limited resources, a positive, instead of simply
placing blame a negative.) Each child has the opportunity to decide for themself
how important the game is and how involved they want to be.
if the children set the bar of acceptable behavior how will they be held accountable?
Can children really be trusted to guide the educational process? This brings back
the need for educational experts yet also sets up the conflict between a coaches
problems and the players problems. It also highlights the conflict between
real and pretend leadership. Leadership involves a lot more then calling heads
or tails or leading a set of stretches. Some ten year olds feel comfortable leading
eight year olds, after all, they've been there, done that and the chance to show
off their expertise is irresistible. But many parents can't trust that their children
will be given the correct instruction by another child or see fail to see the
benefits that their child will have when given the opportunity to do so themselves.
Yet these are often the best coaches and examples for younger children to have.
Someone with real empathy for the problems. Finally, the bottom line comes down
to realizing that children need to learn how to play before they can play
soccer. Physical activity, free spontaneous play, is rapidly disappearing as an
activity of preference for youths much less meeting the demands of soccer. To
think that adults are the best resource to teach play to children is questionable
Many of today's parents live with a
fear that their child will be left behind, that they will lose control. Learning
in street soccer is subtle, control is exercised by peers. There is no adult to
report that "today Jimmy learned how to dribble with the outside of the foot.
He's getting better. Thursday we'll work on shooting." This type of reassurance
is comforting to any involved and concerned parent. But, in a pure street soccer
culture, most parents have no idea of what is going on. This part of childhood
belongs to the child. Reports to parents were brief and
to the point, "I was with the guys, we played some, it was good. What's for
dinner?" Not the type of things that involved parents want or expect to hear.
These parents want accountability and guarantees which is difficult to demonstrate
in street soccer
One way to bridge this
cultural gap is through the use of soccer festivals or tournaments
with an individual winner. These play days give the game back to the children
yet allow adult supervision from a distance. Ages can be mixed so that one week
the ten year olds are at the bottom and the next they're at the top. Leadership
can be learned from the position of the leader and the follower. Children can
learn new tricks and ideas from a wide variety of sources. New faces bring fresh
challenges and problems.
Without question, the vast
majority of American youths playing soccer today have never experienced street
soccer. Yet, this concept is not foreign in American culture. Millions of adults
today remember "the good old days" of sand lot baseball, pick up basketball
and neighborhood football games. Games, and childhood's, built exactly as Michels
outlines above. Older players organizing the teams, coaching the younger ones
and having the opportunities to lead. Children had a responsibility to the game
and each other. Play brought everyone together, and it took everyone together
to play. Sadly, today's soccer children are denied this. What was good enough
for the parents is not good enough for the children. Instead, they are getting
something that is supposedly better, after all, we wouldn't knowingly create something
worse. In the world of adult supervised soccer control and accountability have
been gained for the adults. But what has been lost is the sense of accomplishment
and the entrepreneurial spirit for the most important people involved, the children.