I’ll summarise it [The characteristics of the playground]. It’s chaotic. Lots of chaos when you think of the playground environment. Two or three games going on, different activities going on and kids everywhere.
Structure. I would argue the case that there is always some sort of rule in the game. Whether it be football or hide and seek or tag. It’s always a way in which the kids come up with their own rules and their own constraints of the game. Headers and volleys the rule is that you score from a header or a volley. There is a little bit of structure. I think we think that free play is with no rules, there is a little bit but it’s normally peer enforced. There is always some (rules) in my mind.
Engaging. It has got to be hasn’t it? It’s got to be fun. What happens if it isn’t fun [asks the audience] Kids don’t play. They go and they do something else. It’s definitely got to be engaging.
It is child led and it’s competitive.
For me those are the key characteristics.
What does that mean for us in terms of a football environment?
In terms of chaotic. What are the returns of it being chaotic? It promotes decision making and problem solving. There is always a decision to be made. Whether it is tag, you’ve always got to have a decision on space. How am I going to avoid my man? How am I going to catch the partner? There is always a problem to be solved. The problem might be there are three games of football going on and which one am I involved in. The problem might be, I don’t know who is on my team because we aren’t wearing bibs and I’m trying to figure out if Joe is on my team when he is calling for the ball and if I give him the ball, will he run up the other end and score a goal. There is always problems to solve. That also promotes creativity because the kids haven’t got one solution to the problem.
A variety of returns so it’s not just taught in isolation. A game of street football, playground football, playground games have got lots and lots of returns. It won’t just be a passing game. It won’t just be shooting and dribbling. It’s got everything in it. And the kids will always get those returns from that environment. Physical returns, social returns if you’re looking at the 4 corner model. It’s always got those sorts of things in the playground.
Vision and awareness. What happens if you don’t know what’s going on in the playground? You’ve got to be aware of going on around you.
For me those are the key things from the playground environment, the returns from the chaotic environment.
In terms of structure, the rules of the game which provide a framework. By the frame work it doesn’t give it a solution to the problem. The framework might be headers and volleys. There is a little bit of structure to it but it doesn’t tell them how to solve the problem. It doesn’t give them the answer. It does give them the freedom within that framework to try and solve the problem and be creative within it.
The other thing about structure is that it is always self-enforced. The kids know the rules, they don’t need an adult over the top telling them what the rules are. The kids will enforce the rules themselves. The have got a sense of morality from the younger age groups. They know if it is right, they know if it is wrong. They know who to pick up on are the rule breakers.
Engaging and fun. For me if you are working with kids from any age, not just younger ones. They’ve got it enjoy it. Our job as coaches is to develop a lifelong enjoyment of the game. If we aren’t doing it right at any age then we are turning them off the game. It needs to be engaging and it needs to be fun. What that looks like at a different age group or a different standard is dependent on the players that you are working with. It needs to find a way that is engages them. If they are not engaged they’ll leave.
For me intrinsic motivation and high effort and commitment. If it is fun and engaging the kids will want to do it and they’ll be committed to doing it. When I’m looking at coaches in the academy or grassroots coaches that I work with. The one thing I’ll always judge a session by is ‘are the kids running around?’ because if they don’t want to be there they won’t run around. If the kids are running around, trying hard and you’ve got high effort and they are committed to the task, it means that they are enjoying it.
The other thing that it brings with it is that is promotes an environment of mastery. Kids want to get better. They want to be the best they can and they want to improve because they enjoy the task and the challenge.
Child led so there is opportunities for ownership and social development. The players come up with the rules and constraints of the practice. They come up with how it is going to be enforced. They have opportunities to speak to each other, solve the problem, pick the teams and come up with a variety of different things.
And it’s competitive. There is always a way of having a winner and loser. There is always a way of scoring. That brings familiarity with success and failure, which I think is very important. We are trying to create a winning mentality but not a winning at all costs mentality. I think that is important and if you put that competitive element into all your activities, whether that is keeping score or individual challenges a way of individuals keeping their own scores, it brings a bit more opportunity to be successful. Failure is not a bad thing. Kids failing is good for their learning. We must give them an opportunity to fail. If there are no winners or losers then how do they know if they have failed or not?