Tag Archives: soccer

Turban Bans, Soccer & Letting Kids Play

16 Jun

“They can play in their backyard.” Quebec Soccer Federation executive director Brigitte Frot, explaining the options available to 5-year-old boys in turbans who wants to play soccer.

On June 2, 2013 the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) defied the Canadian Soccer Association’s guidelines and banned turban wearing kids from playing organized soccer in the province. They said it was due to “safety concerns”, but were unable to cite specific incidents where injuries were caused by turbans.

The QSF’s ban on turban wearing soccer players is, at best, ludicrous, and at worst, racist. Critics claimed the QSF was making a political, anti-immigration statement. They may be right, but the collective reaction to the QSF’s ban makes a clear statement about how little we value children’s “free play”.

Bridgette Frot was correct when she said “They can play in the backyard”. She’s responding to the rhetoric that the QSF ruling prevented kids who wear turbans from playing soccer; it doesn’t. The ruling simply meant that kids who wear turbans couldn’t participate in organized soccer controlled by the QSF. Unfortunately, for many parents, organized activities are the only form of children’s play that matter.

Growing up in the north of England I didn’t play organized sports of any form until ten years old when I was chosen for my school soccer team. Despite this, I don’t remember an age when my life didn’t revolve around soccer. I played two or three hours a day in various pick-up games, on the street, at the park with friends or during recess.

This is how most kids around the world play, then and now. Most nights I left our house after supper and my parents had no idea where I was going, nor did they ask. Their only expectation was that I was home before dark and didn’t get into trouble. And they trusted me to do that. I roamed the streets, had adventures, got into scrapes, and along the way learned I could handle myself in the world without a supervising adult.

When I came to Canada things were different. Soccer wasn’t played in the streets or at the local park. It was highly organized with registrations and teams and coaches and practices and schedules and referees and try-outs and on and on. My parents drove me to games and stood on the sidelines with other parents. Playing soccer was no longer something I did on my own, it was something my family and I did together.

Many people are questioning why we don’t give children more independence. In April 2008 Lenore Skenazy armed her nine-year old with a subway map, a Metro card and some money, left him in downtown New York City and trusted him to find his way home. He did, and the subsequent public reaction to her attempt to build independence in her child, lead Skenazy to create the Free Range Kids “movement”. She encourages parents to treat their child as “…a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help…”.

There’s been lots of discussion about the importance of failure in children’s learning lately. What’s missing from this discussion is an acknowledgement that only when children are independent can they really experience failure. The presence of in-charge adults lowers the stakes for children. Adults won’t, or can’t, let kids fail, but it’s the risk of real unprotected failure that brings forth new skills and understanding.

Surrounding kids in layers of protection is ultimately disrespectful and prevents them from developing independence and self-confidence. Parenting guru Barbara Coloroso wrote in her terrific book Kids Are Worth It:

“It is usually best to allow kids to experience the consequences of their mistakes and poor choices, which are theirs to own. So long as the consequences aren’t physically, mentally, or morally threatening.”

We need to start trusting kids and valuing child-organized and controlled activities. When we organize activities for kids we rob them of the opportunity to develop autonomy. Kids all over the world operate autonomously, often because they have to. Our own kids, and those we teach, are capable of doing the same and in doing so will be better for it.

Thankfully, the QSF’s ban on turban playing soccer players has been lifted. I hope that, because of it, a few more people understand that the presence of adults in children’s play isn’t an entirely good thing. Kids don’t need a league, a coach, a referee or a provincial soccer federation to have a game of soccer. All they need is a couple of friends, a space and a ball or suitable substitute. In return they develop independence, self-confidence and, hopefully, an understanding that the joy of play isn’t something controlled by self-important adults. It’s something inside them.

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How Soccer Will Save the World

4 Mar

“Even as a footballer, I was always being creative.” Eric Cantona

I love how a meaningful piece of writing, something that resonates with you, changes the way you see everything.

Seth Godin’s ‘Stop Stealing Dreams‘ doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it restates, reframes and recaptures a lot of ideas about teaching, learning and education. As I was reading, I’d often find myself nodding and thinking ‘yes, that’s what I think too’ (here are my first thoughts on ‘Stop Stealing Dreams’).

Bringing those ideas into focus has changed the way I see other things as well. I find myself categorizing ideas and methods barely mentioned in Godin’s book into industrial or non-industrial thinking (some writers use ‘post-industrial’ here, but I think this way of thinking pre-dates the industrial revolution. We are merely returning to it).

For example it’s now obvious that standardized testing is an intrusion of scientific management techniques (industrial thinking) into teaching and learning, an artistic and non-industrial activity. That’s why things like EQAO are problematic for so many teachers and students. Round peg into square hole.

Such categorizations are imperfect but sometimes it’s a useful lens to view things through . It was through this very lens that I was viewing another of my favourite topics, soccer, and reflecting on it’s place in the world and how it relates to modern education.

Modern soccer is a non-industrial activity. It pre-dates industrial thinking by centuries, having been played from the 3rd century BCE. Soccer is an inherently interdependent activity, just like learning. No single player dominates a match, and great players rise to the top only with the help of teamates.

Playing soccer is a complex problem solving activity, where each time you have the ball you must choose the best of twelve possible options in a few seconds. One of the highest compliments a player can receive is to be called ‘creative’, which happens when mental and physical skills work together to solve the problems faced in the game in unexpected and unusual ways.

Soccer is also a very dynamic and unpredictable activity. Conditions are always changing and strategies have to be re-evaluated and modified on an ongoing basis. The best players and teams are those that can do this and effectively communicate with each other. Sounds like modern learning doesn’t it?

Another key way that soccer is obviously non-industrial is the way it resists quantification. Individual statistics are rarely referred to and not very helpful in assessing a player’s performance. Compare that to the statistical analysis of baseball players highlighted in ‘Moneyball‘ or in other sports discussed at the recent Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT. At the Sloan Conference papers were presented analysing aspects of Football, Baseball, Basketball and Hockey, but not Soccer, the world’s most popular sport.

In the culture of soccer non-industrial thinking goes even further. Players and fans often devalue the most important statistic of the game, the score. Teams aspire to the play the game ‘the right way’ and teams that play in an efficient but uncreative way are disparaged. Most players and fans would rather lose trying to play ‘good football’, than win playing an efficient ‘kick and run’ style.  True fans celebrate soccer as ‘the beautiful game’ where the end definitely does not justify the means.

Many North American sports fans, weaned on ‘win at all costs’ approaches, struggle to understand this aspect of soccer, and it highlights a fundamental difference in industrial and non-industrial thinking.

What does this mean for teaching and learning? It highlights that there are activities in a variety of areas (arts, problem solving, sports, etc.) which encourage and support the development of non-industrial thinking that students need to be successful in the future as described by Godin. We need to be aware of these activities and use them in education to develop these qualities in our students.

The dominance of industrial thinking in so many aspects of our culture (evaluating sports by statistics, movies by box office receipts, authors by books sold, people by numbers of FB friends) indicates how deeply ingrained it is. As we try and develop creativity and collaboration in our students and our schools we must realize that, at least in the short term, we are very much swimming against a cultural tide.