7 reasons why I always start my sessions with a game…

Kids playing freely – Campinas-SP, Brasil (2017)

Article originally posted at Medium in portuguese on May 22nd of 2018.

Important to understand that this article was written for the Brazilian public so some specifics might not apply to some realities though the main idea is clear for all contexts.

Before describing my reasons why, imagine a child’s day until the time for football/soccer arrives. In the case of those who attend practice in the morning, imagine the previous day and some previous hours in the morning. How many times did this child have total freedom to choose what to do, what to eat, where to go? And after these experiences prior to practice, what will be the emotional state of this child? Happy, sad, excited, angry?

And then they can’t wait to put on their socks and cleats, go on the field and make some effect moves like Neymar and Coutinho, assist like Marcelo and Dani Alves, score goals like Gabriel Jesus and Firmino, make beautiful saves like Alisson and Ederson…

But when it comes to the field what is the reality? Laps around the field, physical and / or technical-analytical circuit… ZERO FREEDOM! Whether to create, to express yourself, to HAVE FUN!

In other cases, we use an element rooted in the culture of Brazilian street football: the bobinho (Monkey in the middle).

Bobinho is a good strategy for starting sessions. It works ball possession, creating passing lines and cutting them, marking, pressure, reaction speed among many other things. And the most important in terms of fun: in a relaxed way.

When it reaches the competitive level, bobinho becomes RONDO, consecrated mainly by Pep Guardiola and his teams.

I was one of those coaches until the beginning of last year. Not only because of my own decision, but also because of the context in which already had this as part of its culture.

After that, I moved to a different environment (from Brasil to USA). And I had contact with a new context in a different culture. And that was when the concept of starting practice with games was first introduced to me. But not the formal game, with official dimensions. A small-sided scrimmage. With smaller goals, something like street football in which many of the Brazilians over 20 years of age grew up playing. Whether literally on the street, or in the building’s playground, or in the condominium / club square, park, etc…

My job is: setting up a play space, vests and letting the children play a part in that moment. They will organize the teams, decide the ball or field, be responsible for the refereeing etc … And I will be present, watching but without interfering. Just “venting comments in the air”, not giving orders, but creating a characteristic environment with the objective of taking children to the GAME STATE OF MIND.

And I saw that it really made sense.

1- Fun

Until the age of 10, this is the main reason why they are there. And to instill in them the desire to learn and continue practicing the sport in the future, it must be fun. So nothing better than starting the session by playing. PLAYING.

It is important to emphasize that everything always depends on the context. It depends on the level of knowledge and understanding of the game for example. If I have a group of 5 year old children, it is very likely that I will not play a scrimmage. But this is a matter for another article…

2- Freedom

When starting with a game similar to the scrimmage without specific rules / conditions, children are free to make their decisions and face the consequences of these. Right now, the game is the master and the feedback for each action is intrinsic.

3- Communication

Conflict resolution, organization of the game and the team itself among other factors will encourage them to communicate. As stated earlier, I am present but without interfering. Those initial 15 minutes are theirs. Which leads to the next topic …

4- Autonomy

With the figure of the coach out of the picture, it will be up to them to decide how to set the rules and dimensions so that the activity occurs in the best possible way. This will bring a need for active voice in the group. Perhaps a way to awaken leadership in the group.

5- Focus

As stated at the beginning of the article, each child will arrive at practice in a certain emotional and cognitive state. When joining a game, they will have no choice but to pay attention to the game or deal with criticism from colleagues. So it is a great strategy to raise the level of concentration in practice for the activities to come. Which brings me to the next topic…

6- Competitiveness

The game environment is conducive to stimulating competitiveness. With that, a good coach will use that to their advantage. Influencing each one to be the best they can be in the following activities is one of the positive results of this. Kids will be much more motivated to do the analytical drills more appropriately and with more interest.

7- Game time

It is more than clear in the scientific literature that playing time is an essential element in training. Among the several theories, one that has gained notoriety lately was that of 10.000 hours. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers talks about the need for 10.000 hours of practice in such a thing to achieve excellence in this.

But more important than aiming to achieve excellence, is that game time will be essential to engage the kid and achieve all previous six factors.

In my personal opinion, this 7 factors are key to success of a youth sports program.

So, what do you think? Like, comment, share, subscribe and keep following for more!

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