Honor the innate desire of children to learn through play

Sometimes as coaches we ignore universal truths.

“I just think they should go to school,” remarked a friend of mine commenting on home-schooled children.

“Why?” I asked.

“So that they learn something,” she replied.

“And if they learn just as much by not going to school?” I responded.

1. Children learn. They are wired for it and embrace it with an insatiable curiosity.

2. Children like to play. They are wired for it and embrace it with limitless energy.

As soccer coaches, we sometimes forget these two universal truths. We, as coaches, feel that we must fill an empty vessel that would otherwise without us go about the world ignorant and incapable.


Throw a ball in the midst of children and a game of some sort will break out. In most of the world that game will be soccer. And in that game, all elements of what we want in our training sessions would flourish: leadership (picking sides), governance (rules), ball control, movement, position play, behavior, fitness, and mindset.

What will not happen is that the children will do a few laps around the field, stand in a line, and then stop for a whistle. At times, our children are over-drilled. Drilled to boredom and drilled in way that fails to honor the innate desire of children to learn through play.

Some of the greatest players to have ever played the game learned the game on the streets -- the humble streets of cities worldwide. Streets void of whistles and coaching tips.

As Johan Cruyff said: “I trained about 3-4 hours a week at Ajax when I was little. But I played 3-4 hours everyday on the street. So where do you think I learned to play football?”

The beautiful game itself offers the best education to children, all of whom are natural learners.

(This article was republished courtesy of Todd Beane, who can be followed on Twitter at @_ToddBeane. He is Founder of TOVO Training and TOVO Academy Barcelona. TOVO Training combines pedagogical practices of experts in the field of education with the visionary principles of a total soccer legend Johan Cruyff. TOVO Academy Barcelona offers soccer immersion programs for youth players and development courses for coaches.)

6 comments about "Honor the innate desire of children to learn through play".
  1. frank schoon, December 29, 2017 at 10:04 a.m.

    In 'STREET SOCCER"all elements of what we want in our training sessions would flourish: leadership (picking sides), governance (rules), ball control, movement, position play, behavior, fitness, and mindset". So true and one thing Todd forgot to mention which ties in with "leadership' is "player hierarchy" which is based upon how good you are in the picking order of things for the Top Dog will decide who plays where and makes the teams. The other aspect Todd left out is the "tactics" the kids learned and that is done through "pattern recognition" which Todd had mentioned in his previous article. "Pattern Recognition' is developed when kids play a lot of "pickup" soccer(see Cruyff's quote of playing pickup soccer 3-4hours a day) where the kids experience similar game situations constantly over time and thereby begin recognize these situations coming up ahead of time; and thus allowing to read the game of what possibly can happen and thus prepare for eventuality. In other words these kids are getting tactically schooled. All of this stuff is learned without a coach and NO COACH can teach this PROCESS, and there is not a coaching license capable of doing this. There are too many variables, mentioned above, that you can't put your hands on like a piece of clay mould and structure it that only street or pickup soccer, through its dynamics is able to do.  Now get this, the USSF Coaching Academy thinks making obtaining a coaching much more difficult would improve the youth's development is a total JOKE!!!. It is not about making coaching license more difficult to obtain but making youth more available playing "PICK UP" soccer that will help their development.

  2. Bob Ashpole, December 29, 2017 at 9:11 p.m.

    Great article. The way I like to say it is "Coaching youth is the easiest job in the world--We're teaching kids how to play a game."

  3. beautiful game, December 29, 2017 at 9:27 p.m.

    I would be curious to see the practicality of a 90- minute soccer practice which starts with a half hour self organized scrimmage by the players followed by half hour of coach supervised workout, and ending the session with a 30--minute high speed scrimmage with no whistle.

  4. frank schoon replied, December 30, 2017 at 9:40 a.m.

    IW! Good suggestion for starters. Now the next step is to  integrate a one year older team, so the kids play mixed ages. The next practice is for that team to play and practice with a year younger team and the year older team would play and practice with another year older team. The second half of the season is. To somehow combine the practices mixed with all 3 different ages. Now here is where the organizers should spend time focusing on creating a format for the teams to practice together throughout the season to be planned. 

  5. Nick Daverese, December 30, 2017 at 9:54 a.m.

    Good suggestions I like street soccer played with all different ages playing against each other. That is how kids learn they see something they like that older players try and the try to copy them. Just can’t play cut throat because you don’t want to hurt younger kids. I also do not feel the need to keep score of course. 

    I do prefer a warm up before play starts and a cool down after play ends. For a lot of reasons.

    To keep from getting injured, and to get those bad touches out of the way before the start of free play. then a cool down to help prevent the stiffness after free play. Also promotes good habits when they get older.

  6. Kevin Sims, December 30, 2017 at 4:49 p.m.

    Exactly. Bob Gansler once declared, at a convention session of United Soccer Coaches, that the coach is the only person who attends practice for the purpose of practice. He asserted this notion fit the young, novice child and the seasoned international star equally ... and every player between. Indeed, the trick is for the coach to achieve intentional player and team development camouflaged as playing the game.

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