Guardiola on Play

Children need the freedom and the time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.
— Kay Redfield Jamison

Football is a game. That’s an objective fact that no one can refute. It’s a game which millions of people all over the world play. Some are better than others. Some receive money for playing it and others pay to watch it. The young play, the old play, the poor play, the rich play. People play on the beach or in the park. Two friends can play or 22 strangers. It can be played anywhere, any time, and by anyone under any circumstance. You don’t even need goals to play but the one thing you do need is a ball. The most important tool of the game. 

My question is at what point in our need to control every aspect of the sport and how we teach young people to play it did we take the ball away? Who was the first person to come to a pitch and not find it necessary to give the participants that round object? More worryingly, who were the people who allowed that to happen? Are we so far removed from the objective fact that this is a game which requires a ball, so estranged from the essence of the sport, so alienated from the concept of play, that we believe to give our players the game but no ball?

Moreover, we have a responsibility to young players, as teachers of the game, to give them the tools and space to learn through play. The nature of the game must be intact when presented to players. When we coach, we must bring out the inner child in us. Remember what fun feels like. The most brilliant coaches are able to create games which teach. It’s one of the most difficult things to do but one that every one of our players will appreciate. Even for the coaches out there who are getting paid to teach this sport, mustn’t forget this is a game, and always will be.

Read: Play the Game, Not the Rules

We know this, and should one forget it, there are constant reminders everywhere. We all have nostalgic ideas of football in it’s purest form. Recently, on my daily walk with my dog when I am usually lost in thought with all of life’s burdens, I was reminded of this. The scene was set; a quiet street in the suburbs of Liverpool on a late Sunday evening with a beautiful June sunset as a backdrop. Two goals chalked into the curb of the street, one busted up ball, and four kids playing their version of the World cup. Nothing more needed. And this is can be seen anywhere in the world. 

This was a common scene during my time in Spain. A dirt pitch in the Borne district of Barcelona or the plaza next to the cathedral in Sitges or the empty street market in Mexico City or one of the football pitches embedded in the concrete jungle of Manhattan. It doesn’t matter where, the essence of the game is what will always naturally emerge. This essence is what we need to rediscover on every pitch of the world regardless of level, age, social status, location, etc. As Nietzche says “In every real man, a child is hidden that wants to play.” Let that child out and let your players play. Give them the ball and game back. 

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Kids don’t play to learn, but learn because they play.
— Jean Piaget