Why is curriculum counter -productive to young players learning?
I remember my schooling days. I was pigeon-holed and labelled very often without any clear adult empathy or desire to change that. I felt like I was on testing trial through all these years. Anxiety and stress developed over test and studying led to poor learning outcomes. Of course, I was judge and ultimately labelled lazy. This led to low self-esteem and confidence and it’s hard to explain the damage that caused in my childhood years. The education system creates schools where all activities are adult directed, thus children freedom to play are significantly reduced. What is really worried, children not only lost freedom to play on their own, but in most cases ability to think independently and make their own decisions to solve problems. The freedom to play and thinking was replaced by adult led curriculums. In other words- one size fits all! Sadly, for children that means only one thing: more testing, more adult interference with their learning, more telling what to do and less free play, less independent thinking, far less opportunity to solve problems, work on your own initiative, fail, be creative and list goes on and on! Finally, this seems autocratic leadership rather that democratic choice or better partnership in which children needs are ignored or neglected. Why? Simply to fulfil adult ambitions (in school’s case: rankings, testing scores etc…). Now it seems like school learning and football programmes share many similarities such as curriculums. Football programmes replaced old street games, free play with their own adult directed agenda. Question is -Is it working? I do feel is not. Moreover, is counter-productive to children learning and here is why?
1. Too much interference with natural learning process!
Football programmes may well teach kids some game knowledge, however too often at the expense of young players creative, curious, imaginative learning nature. Curriculum often is design to do the same thing for everyone regardless of their unique individuality, personality and the way they learn. Let’s talk about “game models” here. These are imposed very early in nearly every football environment, very strict in which case children have little but no choice to follow! This again is nothing more than one size fits all. Children must abandon their originality, who they are, their own background history in the name of game model only! Perhaps we missing a very important point here? We may well end up teaching a game model rather than game itself and in the long-term kids will learn to understand, learn and make decisions based on game model imposed on them rather than what really happen in the game of football. Finally, to finish this point, game models have very little to do with learning to adapt as outline it the picture below (Source: FA AYA course).
2. Social interaction and learning are affected!
My experience tells me that children do learn most of social skills and values through free play or play where task and constraints are cleverly design to grow social strengths and skills amongst individual children. Social development will be minimizing because football curriculums focus on direct performing and competition rather than learning and co-operation, interactions and relationships between kids. Whilst football is constant interaction and cooperation between human beings, yet football programmes mostly either neglect or ignore it at expanse of technical-tactical preparation. However, where it comes to match day, most coaches demand kids to work with each other, talking about teamwork, communication etc… That is football paradox, I guess?
3. Curriculums confuse learning with playing!
Many coaches had a view that learning occur only in adult led activities in which specific learning objective must be achieved. Rightly so, for some (not very many kids) this may be okay, but for majority is not necessary. For them playing in variety forms and variable repetitions of game situations is actually learning where coach interventions and instructions are very limited. This is learning independently, fail or succeed it but on young players terms. I think you agree, that is what the game environment required-independent, problem solving ability in any circumstances.
4. Curriculums are design to test and memorize answers and do so called “serious work”!
Young players (children) are design to explore, take risks, be curious, develop interest by doing (read playing) rather than testing! And what actually do we test or measure with young kids? Is that even relevant once their physical and psychological characteristic consistently changing and grow (in particular in teen years)? Play means kids want to learn and they don’t need any special invitation to do that. As a result, they do become more skilful and equipped with understanding and learning football game.
5. Curriculums takes too much free play away!
I think you would agree with me that play is important. I think any football programme need well balance time between structured and non-structure play in which children needs are met and reflecting their own learning and development. I do think, if there is no time to explore, there will be less kids who will be independent thinkers, developing their strengths to next level and overall became well -rounded human being in first place and then with a bit of luck a footballer playing on good level. Only in free play I witness kids who can take initiative, find creative solutions, know what to do and learn to learn. Curriculums are terribly design to teach these types of soft skills.
6. Curriculums only reflect the adult programme, not young human beings!
Young players spent most of their time at football ground listen to coaches, follow instructions, react to coaching interventions. Very little time is spent on emotional and cognitive child learning potential and capabilities. As a result, yes kids may time to time perform at good standard (for now), yet they will be less emotionally expressive. Football game is about emotions, instinct and adaptive behaviour, whilst curriculum is about passing, shooting dribbling etc… sadly in prescribed manner in which we treat kids like ill patients! Effective teaching is to understand when to step back and let kids play and learn, in particular when you don’t bring any value to their learning!
7. Curriculum is good only if you want to do what someone else wants you to do!
Have you ever noticed children faces when they have to practice prescribe patterns of play with mannequins? I have not seen smile, certainly is nothing to do with fun, nor is engaging the brain, thus very little learning occur as a result. This is (although may be okay for some) an example of adult directed activity in which kids dare to ask any questions -why? I still to this day have not seen mannequin on football pitch! This is a constraint from standard curriculums in which prevent kids to be creative, pursuing their own way of playing and learning-which no doubt they do enjoy doing!
8. Curriculum does not offer opportunity to compromise, negotiate, argue!
If you wonder why USA have the best basketball players in this planet, you do need to spent several years to understand that! I did! I had spent 7 years of my life in USA and watch numerous times free basketball games at nearly every neighbourhood courtyard. These are directed by kids, not adults and as a result developing a lot of necessary life and game skills to thrive. They choose points, rules, number of players etc… Is Fun with learning! Now why not have at least 1 day a week when kids decided the training design, the outcome they want to learn? I think is lack of trust on our behalf that kids can and do learn without adult interference?
To summarise, perhaps I paint an ideal children world, in which everything is easy. Well, I know in reality, you need to meet many challenges and kids have to face them too. I still do think that with a bit of willingness we can create better programmes where learning, not necessary performing will be at is core values, at least with younger children. I say that because not only I deeply care about every kid I am working with but also because curriculums in current standard form are not very effective (looking at how many kids really can play professionally, although I acknowledge many other factors that cause that situation). Lastly, adult led curriculums too often made decisions for kids, solve their problems as opposed to empower them in their own unique personality and accept them with their own backgrounds, body and brain organization. Often many coaches laugh when you say-free play! Well for kids this type of play means been in control and responsible for their own learning and football game now and in future will need all 11 players with these types of capabilities!