I enjoyed this 3Four3 podcast with Ted Kroeten.
He talks about what he has discovered with free play and soccer for kids, through his Joy of the People, that organizes free play with kids.
Here are some quotables from the pod:
“Play early, learn late.” Sums up that young kids learn more playing with each other than having coaches direct them.
In terms of learning the sport: “The best soccer is closest to home. Playing in your basement is better than your backyard. Play in your backyard is better than your local park. Play in your local park is better than your local club. Play your local club is better than a travel team.”
“I cannot teach better than free play can deliver at the young ages.”
“Some of the things we discovered from free play. Feedback is inappropriate. Feedback between kids on the field is totally appropriate. Feedback from coaches is not. Telling kids to work on things, their weaknesses, is not appropriate. Letting kids understand what they can and cannot do from each other is totally appropriate.
While listening to this last quote, I thought back to the times where I could have been quiet. What kept me from being quiet? Parents expected me to coach, not be quiet. There were games where I was quiet and it wouldn’t be long before I’d hear that I wasn’t coaching.
Ted has thought about free play deeply and sees the complexities of the learning, copying from each other, and subtle forms for feedback that simply can’t be replicated in team practice.
In one spot he mentioned how a kid might learn that if he doesn’t pass to a player, then that player may not put in as much effort on defense later.
Or, when he was left behind on his local hockey team when his buddies moved to a travel team and he selfishly taught the others how to play better hockey so he could have some challenging competition.
The host, John Pranjic, recalled a time at a similar free play experiment that 3Four3 ran where the kids couldn’t solve the simplest things like picking teams or setting out cones because they were so used to adults doing all that for them.
I’ve had similar experiences coaching soccer. I recall a time warming up before a game when we told the players to get into 4v1’s. In one group, every kid had a ball. In another group, nobody had a ball.
Neither group was making any headway to get to one ball.
All stood waiting for us to tell them what to do. The other coach said, “Guys, if we have to tell you how to get one ball per group, we’re in trouble. Solve the problem!”
It wasn’t that these kids couldn’t solve such problems. They just didn’t have the free play experience in soccer and we’re use to doing what adults told them.
Around the same time, I watched these same kids organize free play in baseball, basketball and football. They could pick balanced teams, set up the field or court, and make other equalizing adjustments that selfishly kept everyone playing longer without any adult intervention, all learned from free play in those sports.