Thursday, 30 December 2010

Mixed Age Football, Play and the Community

John arrives some forty five minutes early. His favourite bit is helping to inflate the goals.

He is nine with severe behavioural problems. His is a sad but not uncommon story. His dad left when he was young and his mother is embarrassed by his behaviour and is never seen out with him. The week before at an organised kid’s event he had tried to stab some older children with a pair of scissors and swore at the adults in charge before being taken home by the police.

His school have been notified, but they are well used to his behaviour as he has bitten, punched and kicked some of the teachers there.

The time putting up the goals and getting the equipment from the coaches’ cars is a chance to talk one on one with a bloke. Just chatting about what he did that day, but with their undivided attention.

He makes for the pitch where the younger ages play from 3-7. He helps out and organises the games and is fabulous with the younger ones.

One of the mums who help from the estate has started to take him to church on Sunday. The local community are beginning to look after John.

“I am sure those games instilled in me and my pals a sense of responsibility and a notion that one had to adhere to rules in life if you were not to spoil things for other people.

We had no referee to apply the rules of the game. When a goal was scored we restarted the game with a kick off from what passed as a centre spot. When a foul was committed, a free kick was taken and no one took umbrage. We seemed to accept that if anyone did not play by the rules of football, the game would be spoiled for everyone. Those games played without supervision taught us that you can’t go about doing just what you wanted because there are others to think of. Of course it was not a conscious thought at the time, but these kick-abouts on the bomb site taught us the rules of society and prepared us for life.”

Tommy Smith – ex Liverpool FC

Mike is small for seven but has magic feet. He plays for a local U7s team and scored all their goals the week before in an 8-0 win. He makes straight for the pitch where the older lads play. His eleven year old brother goes with him and when on the other side makes sure his younger sibling does not take the mick with some crunching tackles, although he inevitably does with some of his dribbling skills.

Mike is the youngest on this pitch with players as old as 19.

This pitch is for the serious players. They play flat out for 2 hours, taking individual water breaks when their team allow.

The coaches never need to interfere here as they look after their own game.

The offer of bib’s are shunned as the kids like to play in the kit worn by their heroes or whatever they want to wear.

"A lot of great players in the world will often say they don't know how they produced a piece of game changing magic - "It just happened", said with a shrug of the shoulders.

What has actually happened is that they have often merely instinctively carried out an act from the archives of tricks and instincts built up over the years of playing football with no boundaries in their formative years."
Oscar Egbogu - (Grew up playing street football in Africa and now plays 5-a-side in London)

Alex is ten and he makes for a pitch which attracts the mainly semi sporty. They enjoy football when it is a laugh but it is not top of their priority list. They take quite a few breaks and mess about on their bikes down the grassy slope.

Later the mums come from the estate with the little ones ages 2-3. They look after themselves and have the time of their lives kicking the balls around and making structures with coloured cones. The mums usually end up in goal or playing against the little ones. When the mums sit down for a rest and a natter the little ones invent their own games.

I watched one two year old build a semi circle of coloured marker cones before putting a ball on each. She then proceeded to kick the one at the end to try and topple the one opposite and so on.

One of the mums is Ania who is originally from Poland and sadly has no family left. She comes each week with her twin three year old son’s.

She has found it difficult to integrate into the local community but she and the boys have already made new friends through football. She is a big reader and other parents have been bringing her books for her and the boys’ home library.

At the end of session all the boys and girls help put the gear away and beg for a ball to be left out so they can then get in another 10 minutes play.

‘One of the major reasons children play football is for the human movement experience, the excitement and indescribable feeling that comes with it. That sense of play that used to pervade the physical activity of children has arguably been diminished. Sport has been dominated by a system where the needs and interests of adults have overtaken those of the children where they seem to make all the important decisions and are mostly devoted to winning rather than the process of developing our children. Give Us Back Our Game is a programme that is promoting that delight children used to experience in playing ‘their’ football, lost in the playgrounds many years ago. Through a games’ focus, children share success and failure; they learn how to trust each other and to care about each other’s ways of competing and making decisions. We need to develop children who are independent, value learning, are allowed to be creative and enjoy playing football. Adults need to ‘just let the kids play’ and realise that our children are going to learn more from that, then ‘getting taught’.

Dr Lynn Kidman, University of Worcester

Author of ‘Athlete Centered Coaching’

And the community has been good to me and the GUBOG football scheme. Locally the Town Council have got us a small grant and places to play for free. The local Housing Association has paid for a sports hall for us during the winter. The sports development officer from the district council has given his time free of charge each week. The major impact for me personally is that I am to start a new part-time job and the first regular income for three years.

The job is as an Inclusion Support Worker at the local secondary school.

I have few qualifications and there were many good candidates, but they were very impressed with the work I have done with the community football and hope that the skills I have learned from that will help with my job trying to keep pupils that would normally have been excluded, in the school system.

A number of the boys at the school with behavioural problems are already at the GUBOG football scheme playing and coaching, linked in with a local club and primary school as well as the GUBOG sessions.

There are no facilities so it is a case of having to use one of the big trees to spend a penny, which is very rare as they get so lost in play.

This is all about the community and using the equipment and space as they please. There is something for everyone and they just select who and where they want to play with some younger children playing with kids more than twice their age.

Learning social skills and football go hand in hand.

At a recent coaching workshop with an inner city council, I was explaining that in our experience the chief ingredients that have worked best are mixed ages, where kids can chose where and who they play with and allowing them to organise and referee their own games.

The twenty football development community coaches were in agreement but health and safety and child protection issues don’t allow this to happen.

So John won’t come early and put the goalposts up and help and coach the younger ones. Mike won’t be ‘megging’ the teenagers and his older brother will not be bringing him on the crossbar of his bike. The mums will stay at home and a chance to play footy with the tots is lost.

Meanwhile organised kids’ football is getting further and further away from how children socialise and play.

I had an email from one of the mum’s last night. She said she had been crying for the last hour. Her son of 11 who comes to the community sessions has just been dumped by the local club after playing in the same team since six. She was informed by text and had already paid the seasons fees.

No community, no play, no development and the adults get to decide.

The answer lies within the community itself. For generations they have sorted it out but have now had their wings clipped by checks and balances, fear and mistrust.

The time has now come to take off the shackles and let them manage themselves.

That includes places where kids can just go and play as well as proper community clubs where all children are catered from and have a cradle to grave policy where football becomes a healthy lifetime obsession.

What we are doing with the community scheme, which is being adopted by others around the UK, was a normal scene in parks, playgrounds and recreation grounds a generation or so ago. Sadly it is now deemed too risky for many organisations to adopt. These organisations are the ones that get the grants and have the power and the money but are only allowed to deliver a heavily diluted version of what is really needed.

“If children don't play, their minds don't grow. Play is where they learn to make their own decisions, trust their own judgement, set their own targets. It's where they learn to get along with other kids, meet triumph and disaster, and then come home for tea. Adults can help by helping them find somewhere to play, sorting out the boundaries, being handy with the plasters if something goes wrong. But otherwise we should leave them to it! This is why I support your work.”

Sue Palmer, author of 21st Century Boys and GUBOG supporter

(All names have been changed for this article)

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Chapped Legs and Punctured Balls

I have a book, Chapped Legs & Punctured Footballs,

The book is a light hearted look at growing up in North Devon in the 1960’s and playing football.

“A really wonderful and funny read that took me back to my experiences of playing football with my mates.”

Tony Adams (ex-Arsenal & England captain)

Here are a few quotes from the book;

On balls...

The Light Plastic Ball

Cheap ball that came in a cheap plastic net. Usually red, yellow or blue with black hexagons.

The ball was so light that even the slightest breeze could waft it to Venezuela and beyond.

Frowned on by all street footballers and usually only purchased by well meaning grandparents, existing on a small state pension. The remedy was a quick kick about in Granddad’s garden and a volley into the nearest rose bush. The punctured version of the ‘light plastic ball’ was actually better for street football but was a bugger to head.

On footwear...

School Shoes

Then there was the slip-on which was quiet trendy but one of the most dangerous weapons known to man, ranking somewhere between the Scud missile and the Atom bomb.

Many a goalkeeper has been dragged from his goal to the school nurse’s room after being hit by an Exercet Clark’s slip on.

The scenario has been played out on many a playground until the slip on became less trendy. A player through on goal hits a volley with all his might. He miss times the shot and his slip on travels faster than the speed of sound striking the hapless goalie on the forehead, knocking him backwards and unconscious into his goal. The miss hit ball meanwhile trickles innocuously over the line.

In fact some weak players purposefully got their mums to buy them slip ones and a size too big to boot so they flew off the foot at the players will. This gave them a certain street cred in the playground as to how many goalies they had permanently disfigured.

When the slip-on was at the height of fashion, the sky over the playground would become dark with the number of slip-ons in the air. Dinner ladies and teachers likened it to the blitz.

On clothing...

Duffle Coats

These were very popular for a time in the 60s. On a cold day everyone would turn up in a duffle coat, so to distinguish the two teams, one side wore their hoods up and the other side wore them down.

For the casual observer it looked like some obscure sect of Belgian, Trappist monks who brew their own wheat bear for sale in expensive supermarkets.

When it rained the steam coming from thirty or so duffle coats was enough to turn the pitch into a recreation of Jack the Ripper’s, smog filled London. By the end of a game the temperature inside a duffle coat reached levels, hotter than the sun. It was not uncommon for a winger, running down the flank at full pace to self combust.

On places to play...

The Bedroom

Many brothers shared bedrooms and this was paradise for those that wanted to play twenty four hour football.

With twin beds placed at each end of the room players took it in turns to try and score against your opponent by hitting the wall behind his bed. With a springy mattress to dive on the favourite game was Banks v Yashin. Lev Yashin was the Russian keeper who dressed like a referee, all in black. He became a bit of a cult figure in England during the 60s and vied for best keeper in the world with Banks.

The game varied from brothers to bedrooms with extra points awarded for hitting the wall and then rebounding to hit the keeper on the head. Extra points were also awarded by some for goals scored by various pieces of bedroom furniture such as the wardrobe.

A light ball was normally used as a Wembley Trophy in such a confined space could cause extensive collateral damage.

A heavy ball hitting the overhead light was also both spectacular and a regular occurrence that led to many thick ears around the country.

There was talk of a boy up Rayleigh Hill who while making a wonderful save, full stretch, ended up two floors below in the cellar, still on the bed and still clutching the ball. What we used to refer to as ‘a Lev Yashin moment.’

Would make an ideal Christmas present at just £5.99 available at all good bookshops or at most charity shops from 27th December prices 50p!

Kindest Regards,

Paul Cooper

A hilariously funny and gloriously nostalgic book -- it made me cry with laughter. But it has a serious side too. So many of today's children just watch football on TV or 'play' it on games consoles and Wii machines. How will they learn the pure joy (and occasional pain) of real-life play, and all the physical and social skills it takes to make a real-life player? This stuff is caught, not taught. And without it, where will our country's next generation of world-beating footballers come from?

Sue Palmer

Author of 'Toxic Childhood' and patron of the Children's Football Alliance.

Football Football

I have had a great time over the last year working with Nigel Hargreaves the founder of Football Football and the former Head of Strategic Development at the FA. I have never met anyone with as much passion for getting the job done, he is very much a doer which will mean that the Football Football project will be a success.

We have had a number of different programmes all based on fun and games for 5-12 year old's. A particular favourite of mine was a 7 week programme which was based each week on a different country, Brazil, Spain, Holland etc - all games based on the philosophy and coaching of these countries. In gave the children a fabulous insight into how children from around the world learn the game. I really enjoy writing the programme and the various age specific games.

The Football Football programme is a new and innovative football participation programme for young people aged from 5 to 12. It launched on 8th May 2010, initially in 6 pilot locations and then on Saturday 12th June in around 28 purpose built football centres in the UK aimed at getting thousands more children aged between 5 and 12 playing football.

Football Football is a celebration of the children’s game, where every child plays for every second.

The greatest game on earth is given back to the children through fun based small sided games which give the players many more touches of the ball and more involvement in the games, while developing them technically, tactically and socially.

What you won’t find at Football Football are leagues, points, substitutes and some of the adult elements that have meant that many children just don’t get a chance to play or are always waiting on the sideline.

Football Football will reach thousands of children country wide, in inner cities and large towns where chances are often limited, e.g. participation in London is 50% lower than the national average. The programme, developed in partnership with The FA, helps address the 1.1m children who would like to join a team and the 2.4m children who want to improve their football skills.[1]

Football Football seeks to give children a life time love of the game by providing them with a full on football experience which takes the positive values of the games played by children in the streets, parks and playgrounds of past generations, but in a safe, fun environment with FA qualified coaches, a maximum of 10 players per coach and first class facilities.

Football Football provides children with an opportunity to play football their way and the excitement and the indescribable feeling that comes with it. They are fully engaged for the full sixty minutes and will benefit both physically and mentally from the experience

Football Football is the children’s own club where they can play, meet new friends, and learn new skills

The programme is being developed by Nigel Hargreaves, former Head of Strategic Development at The FA from 2001 to 2009, and Paul Cooper, Founder of the ‘Give us back our Game’ campaign

[1]The Football Association’s National Game Strategy 2008-2012