Did you ever hear the tale of how Pele was so poor that he used to tie up a bunch of old socks so he and his friends could play soccer in the dirty alleys of his Brazilian shantytown. Even today, all the great players tell you how they used to grow up playing in the streets, with a broken down car as one goal and trash cans the other. What’s sad is that, in this country, you don’t hear it very much.
Why, you ask, do I think this is sad? It’s not that I want our kids risking their lives playing in the streets, but what I do want is our kids to have fun playing soccer. Somewhere a long time ago, some well-meaning soccer fan decided it was about time to show these Americans how to play some soccer. So, he rounded up a bunch of 6-year old kids and started to teach them how to play soccer…his way. These poor kids stood around and listened and got bored because they just wanted to play. But the “coach” decided that need needed discipline, so he got some cones, started yelling directions and started punishing players by making them….aiiiiiiiiiigh ..run. Most of the players lost interest and the kids never went to play soccer.
Fortunately, there were others who came along and just gave them a ball and just let them play. These young naive American kids made up their own rules, and soon learned how to “survive” playing street soccer. They learned how to kick. They learned how to stop the ball. They learned how to shield the ball. They played keep away. They played two-touch. They played one-touch. They played until they could not play anymore. An you know what? They were doing exactly what the young Brazilians do, and the Mexicans, and the English and the Dutch, and the Nigerians, and the Armenians, and the Koreans and all the kids on the entire planet do. They had fun. They played soccer and they learned all the fundamentals.
In this country, we sometimes tend to structure things too much. Soccer is such an amazing game that the game itself will teach the kids fundamentals. What keeps us behind the rest of the world is we do not allow the game to succeed. Where young Brazilians are playing soccer, learning how to keep a ball away from his friends at all costs and shooting at imaginary goals, we have our kids…at 6 years old…standing in lines to head the ball once every 5 minutes. This needs to change.
It is great that adults want to be involved with their children, but sometimes it is just best to let the kids go out and play. Our job is to keep them safe. Their job is to have fun.