The Game is the Best Teacher

The Game Is the Best Teacher

By Rick Crow

What about soccer that doesn’t have any organization? For younger players especially, pick-up soccer could be the best developmental tool of them all—even better than organized games with coaches, referees, uniforms, scorekeeping, standings and other trappings of adult-driven activities.

As youth soccer programs become more organized, many soccer observers complain that structured activities have eroded the skills, creativity and initiative, that young players develop through spontaneous play. The game, they claim, is the best teacher, especially in its purest and most primitive form.

In a Sept. 3, 2015 interview with Washington Post soccer writer Steve Goff, U.S. Men’s National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsman said, “The way the game is educated, told, driven, we are still far away from real soccer nations. The biggest educational problem is people think it’s a coaches’ game in the United States. It’s not. It’s a players’ game. There’s too much emphasis on telling people what to do. If the teaching part is too big, you will only have players who react to what the teacher or coache tells them. I am looking for personalities. I am looking for players that drive the game. I am looking for them to step it up and say they can do this.”

What makes pick-up soccer such an effective activity for player development?

Pick-up socer is dynamic. Without referees or substitutions, pick-up soccer is a fast and intense game with frequent ball touches, constant transition and almost no stoppages.

Pick-up soccer is flexible. Pick-up soccer can be played 1v1, 2v2 or even 16v16. Lack of rigid structure allows players to modify pick-up activities to fit the needs of a wide range of players and environments.

  • As players come to the field, just add them to the game. When teams get too big, latecomers can start another game on an adjacent field. As players begin to leave, multiple games can be collapsed into one.
  • Several games played at once encourage ability grouping so that every player can find the right game and the right level of play.
  • Multiple games at one location allow teams to rotate and create informal tournament play.
  • When games become lopsided, players can change teams or join another game to even up play.

Pick-up soccer develops independent learners. Pick-up soccer gives players the freedom they need to experiment, explore and solve problems on their own.

Pick-up soccer builds self awarenes. A pick-up environment encourages players to learn how to read the game and pace themselves.

Pick-up Soccer builds fitness. No sitting on the bench! Every player plays every minute. With no time limits imposed by adults, there is no final whistle. Players head home when they are tired.

Pick-up soccer builds skills. Constant contact with the ball helps players acquire skills with little formal training. Balls that roll, bounce and spin from all angles and speeds, challenge players to play the ball with all surfaces of their feet and bodies. Players who play pick-up soccer at an early age need far less direct skills instruction as older players.

Pick-up soccer is fun. Without pressure from coaches and spectators, pick-up soccer is a player-centered game that helps young players develop a lifetime love of the game.

Nothing beats pick-up soccer. For a price the soccer industry offers a wide varitey of developmental activities that enchance skills, speed, agility, strength and other isolated qualites. By contrast, pick-up soccer is free and the benefits are exponential. Only soccer games (organized or pick-up) allow players to progress simultaneously in skills, endurance, awareness, anticipation and reaction.

No amount of instruction or money can develop talented players without dynamic free play. Once parents discover that the game is the best teacher, and once organizers promote free or low-cost pick-up activities, families will save a bundle of money and local soccer communities will produce many more talented players.

The bottom line. The game is the best teacher and pick-up soccer is free.