Let children play football like they do in Brazil
Posted by Dean Holden at June 25th, 2013
by Steve Payne, 28 November 2007
Only when Brazilian kids reach around 14 years of age does anyone start talking to them about team shape and tactics. Until then it’s all about technique, tricks, shooting, dribbling and spontaneity. What is the point of talking to children about triangles and blind-side runs if they cannot effortlessly control the ball, pass or shoot?
Amid the poor areas, Brazilian youngsters play football on the streets, on waste ground, concrete; any available surface. On the coast, the beaches are a further football haven, with fields and goals for as far as the eye can see. Most of the kids have no boots, so they play barefoot, further promoting an ability to strike the ball properly.
Players are brought up from a very early age playing Futsal, five-a-side on small basketball-sized courts, indoors and outdoors, in a range of conditions, with a smaller, heavier ball that does not bounce. It tends to stick to the foot, enhancing confidence. You name any Brazilian international star and he will have played Futsal.
The ability of Futsal players to control the ball in tight areas and to shoot from all angles is incredible. Even more enlightening is the fact that parents and coaches urge kids to show their magic, without fear of retribution for making mistakes.
There are no nonsensical shouts of “Get stuck in, get it up there” or “Get rid of it”. One Brazilian coach told me that the art of coaching youngsters was to try to reproduce street football on the field. At my coaching sessions, I set up small-sided games and, as much as possible, let the young players do what they like doing most – playing. In essence, I orchestrate an environment to resemble street football. I point out strongly that I have no problem with them making mistakes and I insist that they be confident and try things.
Football is a dance, I tell them, and the partner is the ball. In an effort to emulate the Brazilian kids, I often have games in which the players are told to produce all the tricks and magic they can. In some cases I insist that they take on a player without fail. It works.
The kids love it and their confidence level soars. It’s amazing how often I hear kids tell me that their club coaches don’t want them to dribble or “do anything fancy”.
At the Cruzeiro club, their latest discovery, Kerlon Moura, famously beats defenders using the ‘seal dribble’ – running and changing direction while balancing the ball on his head.
I have worked with and alongside Brazilian coaches, some former national players, who run sessions at Cruzeiro in which they say hardly a word. They have technique practices in which players serve the ball to their partners with underarm throws so that a control technique can be constantly repeated, more often than not without opposition.
They set up small-sided games and opposed practices that mimic what happens in a match and let the players get on with it. Occasionally they step in and make a point, then step out. I’ve seen 90-minute sessions in which coaches have hardly said a word. I remember particularly, a first-team squad game, 14 v 14, half a field, two-touch, in which the ability of players to retain possession was mind-boggling.
As the Brazilian coaches point out, in street football, Futsal and other unsupervised games, players have to make their own decisions, learn from their mistakes and find solutions to problems. Street football, with children of all ages and sizes, requires decision-making; Futsal requires a different set of decisions, as does beach football. Players have to adjust constantly.
By carrying this maxim to club academies, the Brazilians set up sessions that, while organised and well-disciplined, are conditioned in such a way that players still have to make their own decisions, an ability that is carried right up to games at the highest levels. That, combined with outstanding technique and the ability to produce the unexpected, is difficult to stop.
I remember a trip on a bus to a tournament with a small-town club that is affiliated to Cruzeiro. There were three teams on the bus, under-14s, 16s and 18s. It took 14 hours to get there and our accommodation turned out to be a run-down school in an even more run-down neighbourhood.
There were no beds. We had to clean up the classrooms and sleep on mattresses, if you can call them that. It was never less than 90 degrees, day or night. The choice at bedtime was simple: open the windows and welcome in every bug on the planet or close them and bake.
We walked two miles past stray dogs, goats, chickens and cats for a communal breakfast. Back at the school, they changed and then, carrying water and balls, walked another mile to play. Those youngsters, and the hundreds of others taking part in the event, might have been living in dirty rooms, but the smiles on their faces when they took to the field were as wide as a palace.
They played every game with unbridled joy, knocking the ball around, dribbling, taking pride in the way they showed off their repertoire. Win or lose, they walked back to the school, took turns in the cold showers, bedded down in the sauna-like conditions and then got up and started all over again the next day.
Steve Payne, is a Uefa A Licence coach who has recently returned from a coaching stint in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, working with Cruzeiro, one of Brazil’s most famous clubs for whom Ronaldo, Alex and Fred once played.
<Perhaps one of the best articles I have found to date on what Brazil does to enhance talent! Glad to learn that many of my beliefs about the game are in line with this philosophy. I can certainly vouch for waiting till 14 to talk about shape (work on skills under pressure in 1 v 1 to 3 v 3 prior); use a multitude of SAG’s that promote continuous, repetitive decision-making, with an emphasis on possession and scoring; let the game be the best teacher of the game by staying mostly silent and allowing the kids to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes with infrequent interjections of guided discovery questioning; and I agree that if the training surroundings are too luxurious, players think ‘they have already arrived’ and you might not get the best from them… an inner drive, passion comes through in less-than-ideal conditions. – Beautiful article! – DH>