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Working With Others as displayed in a football context
Tony Pearce at Herford Junior School, Brighton.
In the school where I work, for the last two years we have been implementing a programme called Working With Others; this focusses on enabling children to develop strategies that allow them to more effectively master skills of collaboration, cooperation, problem solving and solving inter-group conflict productively. Both staff and children have had timetabled sessions where they work on the skills they need to master to become effective both as individuals and members of a group: skills of communication, compromise, role designation, improvisation and flexibility, amongst others.
As the staff member with responsibility for organizing football amongst the children, I had the chance to observe behaviour first-hand that illustrated the abilities and skill sets we were trying to foster amongst the children in a football setting.
Football had disappeared from our school playground. It had been absent for so long nobody even questioned its banishment even more. When I raised a meek query, there seemed to be a list of problems associated with the game which made its exclusion irrefutable: It dominated the playground, sprawling across space in a way which made other activities impossible; the games invariably ended up being controlled by an elite – the oldest, biggest, most skilful boys; it generated bad behaviour – arguing, cheating, aggression etc.
But still, in the corners of the playground away from adult vigilance football persisted: tennis balls, netballs and even cricket balls were being kicked by children obviously hungry to play football. Surely there had to be a way to reintroduce the game?
So, I drew up a plan to put to our Head: Football in a small, contained area of the playground; controlled numbers, equal access for all children and no scope for one group to dominate. The format was to be 3v3 on a small pitch. Three teams wearing coloured bibs, two teams on, one team off and a single goal decides each game. Aside from the first game when winner stays on, each team stays on for two games then goes to the side-lines regardless of results. Access to the game was on a strict rota: lower school girls, lower school boys, upper school girls, upper school boys to allow every child an opportunity to play amongst their peers.
Pleasingly, the Head agreed to it. It was an experiment; it cost nothing, so there was nothing to lose. Schools work better when children are happy and this undoubtedly made the children happy. They were given a brief overview of how the game was to be run at a school assembly and they were left in no doubt that if the experiment failed, football would once more disappear.
With the return of football came examples of behaviour that we had been striving to inculcate in the children with the implementation of Working With Others principles. One of the examples was written up as part of our portfolio when we were assessed, but they are being shown on a daily basis – here are some examples:
To re-start our stalled Year Six Boys team an open trial was to be held, where any interested boy could play. Initially we had eighteen players which was ideal; so I picked two evenly matched teams of nine (based on my knowledge of their abilities). However, come the day of the game we were down to twelve players. Three had dropped out from each side for a variety of reasons, but unfortunately one team had lost three of its strongest players, the other three of its weakest. Once the match started it soon started to follow a predictable path – one team dominating and scoring at will the other barely able to get out of its own half. It was as unsatisfying for the winning team as it was dispiriting for the losing. At half time I gathered the players in the centre circle and asked “Is this working?” then took a step back and left them to it. Quickly and without fuss a calm discussion was held amongst all of the players, bibs were swopped and the teams were re-shaped into two evenly matched groups who proceeded to play a meaningful, competitive and wholly enjoyable second half to the game. All of the players had an input, everyone was listened to and important decisions were made quickly, fairly and efficiently.
The second example is from the playground: Initially I took a hands-on role with the games, refereeing them from a position looking down on the pitch. During one game I adjudged a player had taken the ball over the touch line, conceding a kick-in to the other team. The child looked at me appealingly but didn’t argue (no doubt aware that football in the playground hung by a slender thread) The player from the other team who had been awarded the kick in went to the touchline rolled the ball inches into play then deliberately dragged the ball back out of play – giving the possession back to the team that had wrongly been robbed of it by my interference. The children had been presented with a complex moral problem- was it right to gain an advantage over the opposition through mistaken (and misplaced) refereeing? The children managed to both respect my authority (by taking the kick-in I had awarded) and impose and maintain their own code of fairness and justice by disdaining any unfair advantage. At that moment I realised it was time to let the children run the games themselves as much as possible!
The rules of football provide a framework for meaningful play –unless the rules are followed a game disintegrates until there is nothing left. That is not to say there are not disputes – there are. But if players know that play stops until a dispute is settled satisfactorily they get pretty rapid at conflict resolution. When everybody else is waiting to carry on play, then spurious claims for “My corner!”etc. are soon abandoned in favour of continuing the game. If two players legitimately believe their claim is valid and nobody is backing down it invariably goes to ‘rock-paper-scissors’ to solve the insoluble.
In a world where children are all too often taken (driven) from one adult-led activity to another, the opportunity to practice these skills of negotiation and problem-solving are fewer. Our children are being de-skilled. In my experience, football has provided a framework for children to exercise some autonomy from the adult world; they take responsibility for the kit and equipment, they make decisions regarding infringements, they keep score, they referee. A generation ago these skills would be commonplace in children, but now, in a world where street-play has all but disappeared these abilities must be nurtured if they are not to be lost.
“I am sure those games instilled in me and my pals a sense of responsibility and a notion that one had to adhere to rules in life if you were not to spoil things for other people.
We had no referee to apply the rules of the game. When a goal was scored we restarted the game with a kick off from what passed as a centre spot. When a foul was committed, a free kick was taken and no one took umbrage.
We seemed to accept that if anyone did not play by the rules of football, the game would be spoiled for everyone.
Those games played without supervision taught us that you can’t go about doing just what you wanted because there are others to think of. Of course it was not a conscious thought at the time, but these kick-abouts on the bomb site taught us the rules of society and prepared us for life.”
The FOOTBALL & PEACE PROJECT (click on link to download full report). The Football & Peace Project (F&PP) was inspired by the Christmas Truce of 1914, it considered how the symbolic moment of First World War history relates to the contemporary mission of the NCFA. F&PP linked the escapism of play with the historic and explored conflict resolution. It provided young people with the opportunity to research their heritage in World War One through the medium of sport. The F&PP provided teachers with the opportunity to engage pupils in subjects across their school’s curricular, using sport as a vehicle.
Watch Football & Peace Project Film here:
Inclusion or Selective Inclusion.
Do You Decide?
Football without great expectations.
The day was summed up neatly by fourteen year old Peter; “It was great fun, played so much football and loads of goals. I got to captain one team and really liked helping and encouraging the younger kids in the team.”
Inclusion, one of the 21st century buzz words its everywhere except in football. Well we have football for all at grass roots level – but that is now selective inclusion and you may need to drive 100 miles to sample where those that decide how you should be included have put you.
Football was always inclusive and on your doorstep, it is the one truly inclusive sport if left alone and done naturally. I think they used to call it play, anytime, anywhere and any age – all you need is some players, a ball and something to use for goals.
The grass roots game is becoming more and more selective with FA charter clubs now advertising and holding trials. The more organised they get the more selective they become – it is a natural development but not one that is good for children.
There is still some inclusive football but it is getting harder to find and people, especially parents are confused as to what they can and can’t do.
In Gloucestershire the NCFA have several projects running, one of which is a truly inclusive Saturday morning football session. This is the fourth season it has been running and it is all about fun and learning together through play.
Is the Game the Teacher?
On Saturday everyone joins in fun warm up games with a ball each and then we play fun games and matches. The 4-6s go in one group and the rest into another group.
We had a match of 8v7 ages 7-55, three generations, boys and girls as well as a teenager with severe learning and speech disabilities.
There are no bibs or shirts, no side lines, just players a ball and 4 traffic cones for goals. The games are brilliant and everyone makes it work. All involved see plenty of the ball and play non – stop for an hour, except for a short half time.
I am sure every rule in the ‘new rules on play’ have been broken, but that is inclusion in football not the new ‘selective inclusion approach’.
For more information about Summer Off the Streets contact Paul Cooper
A free scheme in Cirencester gives children a fun day of football during the summer holidays.
A free initiative run by the NCFA, Cotswold District Council and Cirencester Town Council provided children from the ages of 8 to 15 with a day’s football. Local NCFA coaches facilitated the action along with a young teenage coach working on the NCFA mentoring scheme.
The day consisted of fun warm ups with a ball, games and then hours of 3v3 and 6v6 games with plenty of breaks to take on water and get their breath back.
NCFA events co-ordinator Paul Cooper gave some insight on the day ‘ “It is a great initiative and I just can’t believe how quickly the day flew by. It really was a fantastic day; it is always great to see children playing football, not for points or shiny trophies but for the sheer joy of it. The football was fantastic ‘ competitive, skilful and end to end. Some of the play was outrageous, really great to see kids lose their inhibitions and just try anything.”
Paul also explained a little more about the NCFA mentoring programme.
“I work at a local school in the Inclusion Centre and spend an hour a week with year 11 pupil Ryan (15) working on reading skills. Rather than just reading out allowed we thought it would be great to involve Ryan’s passion for football so we are writing a book together. Ryan play’s for a local team and I used to run a junior club side. There are plenty of manuals of how to run teams but not from the child’s perspective, so each chapter has a section written by Ryan. It has also really helped his reading and written work.”
As well as the writing Ryan is involved in projects like the ‘Summer Off the Streets’ one and a Saturday morning NCFA initiative with local football club Poulton FC. The Junior section at Poulton is for children aged 5-13 but rather than have league teams the children come and play for fun. It is proving very popular and this September will be the third season the scheme has been in operation.