Fading Playgrounds

‘There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.’

This quote from the late British philosopher Bertrand Russel, had a profound effect on me ever since I first read it. I often feel that in the modern game, we have brought so much academic, scientific and industrial influence that we have forgotten or someway diminished, some fundamental elements that every game should have: joy (fun), creativity, deception and playability.
In our modern society, there is a perception of having less time (in fact less patience or resistance to boredom) there is also less room for solutions or approaches that might not be as immediately effective as others. We tend to look for performance, for spatial or numerical advantages, for competitive behaviours and for the less risky chances.
This might be best described as a blanket of control that suffocates creativity and adaptability.

The Coach Role

I always believed that regardless of your status, to be in touch with youth hockey can be a plus for any coach. If you dealing with young players, you are exposed to the experience and perception they have about the game. This way you continually reflect on the needs and demands of our sport.
I guess that the vast majority us coaches, have been on this intellectual journey searching for the best way to educate and support young players.

Coaches are very much influenced by external and internal factors, as much as their playing background, own limited knowledge or taste.
More than ever, we should be careful about ‘golden recipes’, infallible technical drills or tactical coaching manuals, the ‘by the book’ knowledge might represent a risk: A restraint on creativity preventing a more organic learning flow!

We must embrace the possibility that there is not just one perfect method; it will be a mix of techniques, didactical styles, that applies best to the specific situation, age group, culture and possibilities.

The role of the coach or teacher is as important as any ideas about learning strategies. Coach is a word derived from the Italian word “coche” and basically refers back to the old (horse-drawn) carriages,’ but is nowadays used as a metaphor as athletes are figuratively ’carried’ to their desired result by the coaching process; that’s what “coaching” really means. Coaches facilitate learning, personal growth and goal attainment quicker, easier, and more comfortably than going it alone.’ 

(Thomas Tichelman on FIH Academy Teaching and Learning Strategies Manual)

Talent?

Fantastic photo by: Anne Veenendaal

It is a very complex and somewhat abstract thing  to define talent.
Some months ago I was asked about the concept of talent in hockey:

‘We could consider a ‘talent’ would be someone that has certain technical, physical and decision-making skills that are above average.
From a psychological perspective, a talented player seems to be someone brave or confident to try and execute their skills during competitive pressure situations. A concept that isn’t restricted by  age or experience.’

While the concept of talent might require a more consensual definition, it is also important to realize that there are different ways talent can be expressed. Look at the examples of Teun de Nooijer, Jamie Dwyer, Robert van der Horst, Moritz Fuerste or Arthur van Doren, all considered the best hockey players in the world in the past years yet all are from different countries and have different playing styles.
Back to the main question:

Is there really an unique method, training methodology that increases the creation of talents?

Travel broadens the mind

I have recently visited Argentina and Morocco, 2 countries that gave me much to reflect on  regarding the different ways street sport, youth development, freedom and creativity are embraced

Argentina

On my bucket list there was always the desire to visit some iconic hockey places in the world while providing clinics for local children and Argentina was definitely on top of that list.

With the support  of the local hockey ‘legends’ Lucas Cammareri, Daniela Sruoga, Charo Luchetti and Piti D’elia (all former and current Argentinian international players) we organised a clinic in Buenos Aires based on skill and creativity (self-pass trademarks).

I was completely astonished by the skill level of all 80 participants (all girls), especially considering that around 80% of the attendees have their weekly trainings on ‘just’ 1/4 of a sand field, which is very different from the training standards of what we consider to be top hockey nations.

This experience was also an opportunity to exchange some thoughts. What really surprised me, was the nature of some of the re-occuring questions from my fellow coaches:

  • ‘How can we raise more talent?’
  • ‘How should we train?’
  • ‘How is youth training in Europe?’

The funny thing is that while I was completely astonished by the high level of ball mastery and technical skills of all these Argentinian girls attending at the clinic, the staff were apparently unsatisfied about their youth, curious and eager to ask and know more about hockey education in Europe. I guess that grass looks always greener on the other side of the fence…
This questioning came from former international players with a huge hockey experience. having recently participated in Olympic Games, participated in dozens of international matches and finals.

The questions were all sincere, but is there somewhere, somehow a ‘infallible recipe’ to raise (more) talent?

Morocco

I travelled to Morocco last year for some rest, writing, and winter sun.
Apart from the kindness of my Moroccan hosts, the mild weather, the beautiful settings and landscapes, there was something that completely amazed me there: The sports culture in the streets and the skill level, mainly in sports like basketball and football. I have heard about the massive street football culture in Morocco, but to be there and have the opportunity to observe the phenomenon really inspired me. 
Flair and discipline. That’s how you could best summarise the way they live their sports. Flair in the sense of feeling with the ball, with the game, an almost effortless display of skill and talent as I have barely seen before.

Why do I pick the word discipline to characterise a country that like it’s many Mediterranean neighbours, is mostly known for a laidback (some call it lazy) lifestyle?

Well, because there was a lot of discipline in the way kids and adults organize themselves to play with each other, discipline in the way they play the game and respect the rules.

I stayed for a few  days  in the lovely coastal town  of Essaouira, every day I was at the beach before sunrise (around 8.00 am). Every day, I saw these 2 guys preparing the lines and arranging the goals for around 10 ‘full-size’ pitches, later on, all sorts of social teams started to arrive and spent literally hours playing with each other. 

They spent days playing for fun, having fun but the game was serious and they were fully committed in every second on the pitch. There was no coach, no refferees, no high end facilities or equipment, not more than one ball, no pushy parents, no time strict demands, basically the most organic of the settings and the most important ingredient: passion. 
Obviously, the previous scenario is influenced by several socialogical, cultural and financial reasons and again, different locations have different identities and characteristics. 
I am fully aware that Morocco is a long way from being the best team in the world  either at Football or at Basketball,  obviously the lack of more competitive domestic competitions,professional coaching and training opportunities represent significant obstacles. 

My point is that, if we allow and embrace playing contexts where kids learn and stimulate each other, we might get better and more organic development. 
Sport in school playgrounds, the neighbourhood streets used to be the best and most creative time, without parents or coaches. If that extra time doesn’t ‘exist’ anymore outside club training, then we should try to incorporate it into our training time. 

A few important elements on a child’s learning environment:

  • Love of and engagement with the game, then the learning will start
  • First ball mastery, after game concepts
  • Peer pressure above parent/coaches pressure
  • Being exposed to (recurring) pressure situations is important
  • Contact (imitation) with your idols/references
  • Friends, buddies, schoolmates, neighbours = best teammates
  • Social values and engagement
  • Organic game settings where the ball is key
  • Healthy and outdoors habits
  • Multidisciplinary (sports or artistic) habits
  • ‘off-training’ hours can be the most fun and effective
  • Optimisation of Space and time (regarding training time and field usage)
  • Stability and continuity (at home and at the club)

Thank you,

Bernardo Fernandes

A special word to my friend Mark Peart for supporting my writing 😉

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