Sport can be an amazing teacher in the lives of young children and adolescents. Throughout the world, youths learn cooperative skills, leadership, dedication and responsibility through the context of play. Yes, at its very basics, any type of sport it still a game. Yet, undeniably, some nations appear to be better at playing than others. Because the world only truly shares one game (sorry basketball, it’s not you), this blog will focus on futból.
Quick, think of the five best international soccer teams you can think of….
Likely, regardless of recent World Cup events, Spain made your list. Why is that? What is the key to their success?
As a teacher, I am more than likely biased, but I will go out on a rather sturdy limb here and attribute Spain’s success at the great international sport to their great leaders, instructors, facilitators, or any other synonym for teacher. The supply of positive leaders is a major selling point in attracting more students to the academy. Check out this video from EduKick, a youth soccer academy in Madrid.
Below, I have laid out the typical schedule of a student at a different academy, the juggernaut FC Barcelona’s youth academy:
Late next month, La Masia will close its dormitory, and all youth academy activities will be moved to Barcelona’s training center in the nearby village of Sant Joan Despi. The daily routine, though, will likely remain for the academy’s residents: During the week, they rise at 6:45 a.m., eat breakfast and leave for regular school in the city at 7:30. They attend classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., return to La Masia to eat, rest and attend mandatory study groups. Training is held from 7 to 8:45 p.m., followed by dinner and some free time. Lights out for the younger players is 10:30 p.m., 11 for older players.
What strikes me the most about this schedule is the relative freedom provided to these young individuals. Their school days are somewhat similar to that of students here in the US, however; the free time in the afternoon, as well as the mandatory study sessions provide students with a form of agency not always seen on our side of the pond. The instructors and coaches alike appear to be in agreement that students do benefit from regimen, but need independent time to socialize as well as collaborate on homework. In essence, these youth soccer programs are more similar to college than they are a public school.
In the US, opportunities such as the ones in Barcelona and Madrid are much fewer and far between. Youth soccer players often find that participation in elite high school teams followed by participation on college teams, specifically Division 1 college teams, is the more prevalent path to professional soccer status. In other words, sport and school are kept in their own separate bundles in high school. In college, mandatory study hours begin to reflect some of the Spanish thinking seen in youth futbol academies, yet at a much later age than in Europe. Click here to follow Duke Alum Andrew Wegner’s take on his American soccer experience.
All is not bright on the horizon for Spanish Futból however. As I alluded to earlier, this year’s World Cup has been a blemish on Spain’s soccer credentials. Perhaps their great side finally just proved to be too long in the proverbial tooth, or perhaps Spain’s youth’s are becoming disenchanted with the once beloved sport. This study, while nowhere indicative of the entire Spanish population, does support the notion that participation in soccer is not as prevalent as it once was.
The question remains however, should sport and education remain largely separate entities? Or, do the two in tandem, as seen in the Spanish futból academies cases, provide students with an educational experience that provides them with real life skills and experiences sooner, therefore, preparing youths more ably for their professional careers?