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Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment” - Maria Montessori

Ministry of Football believes in letting players set their own limits on what they want to achieve and how good they can become. We recognise that it may take many mistakes before a player achieves success, and we encourage all players to experiment with different solutions in order to find answers that they are comfortable with.

Many other coaching programmes teach players text-book packaged techniques, and restrict the players to using only these solutions to problems they face in games. On these programmes, coaches provide constant information to their players on what to do next (Push up! Pass! Shoot! etc). In doing this, they produce players who are dependant on the coach, and whose level of development cannot surpass that of the coach who is instructing them.

Ministry of Football does not believe in restricting players to a set of particular answers. We do not scream instructions at the players (they can’t hear us anyway because of the music!). And we do not tell players off for making mistakes, for taking risks, or for trying new things. We want to help to produce players who are better than we are, players who take the game beyond its current limits, we want to be amazed by what our players can do.

"Practising in the narrow sense of repitition makes skills more reliable, but not necessarily more efficient and more adaptable. Once we are able consistently to 'get it right', it may be worth trying out different ways of getting it wrong, to see what happens. There are two reasons why this is a good idea. First, such a precautionary move may anticipate problems that could occur during the 'real-life' execution of the skill. and develop ways of meeting them. Having secured the ability to build a tower of blocks, young children learn more by seeing how insecure they can make it before it topples over. When they are in 'practising mode' the collapse of the tower signals failure, and may cause distress. When they are in 'playing mode' a similar event may be construed as interesting and informative, and even greeted with glee rather than frustration.

The second function of play has to do with the way know-how is stored in the mind. Children have an innate tendancy to seek greater flexibility and coherence within what they have already learned. After they have achieved adequate mastery they will go on through play to explore and even undo what they have just learnt, searching for anything that links this new ability with other pockets of expertise within the brainscape. Children spontaneously indulge in a kind of 'learning beyond success', in which the mind rewrites what it has learnt, segmenting out and rendering explicit concepts and skills that are common to different domains of expertise. One might say that in general, this is the difference between proficiency and virtuosity: The expert has achieved a level of mastery that permits playfulness - the ability to respond, or even to 'break the rules', while staying within the domain. A Picasso or a Pele are able to do things with brush or ball that the journeyman artist or footballer can neither concieve ot nor carry off." - from 'Wise Up: Learning to Live the Learning Life' by Guy Claxton.

At MoF, we believe that Learning can be very rapid in the right conditions. We try to achieve these conditions for all children on our programme. Here is what we try to do and why:

  • Learning by Doing: We learn to do something by doing it, not be listening to a teacher talk about doing it. Our sessions are jam-packed with action. "A great pianist doesn’t run around the piano or do push-ups with the tops of his fingers. To be great, he plays the piano." – Jose Mourinho
  • We maximise the amount of Active Learning Time in each session. We play indoors so the ball rebounds from walls and precious practice time is not wasted retrieving footballs that leave the play area. Click here to read about our research into Active Learning time on the MoF programme.
  • Skill acquisition happens most quickly through 'Deep Practice'. This can be defined as practice that happens at the edge of someone's ability. Tasks and activities should be intense, requiring effort and concentration. All children need to be challenged in sessions, and this requires expert coaches to recognise where each child fits in their ability to complete a task and to extend or support learners within that task. Mistakes are an absolutely essential part of learning. A child not making mistakes is not learning at the edge of their ability.
  • Football practice and games need to be relevant to the children's needs. Small spaces and tight areas require quick decisions and good ball control. These conditions will help players become expert players that are comfortable receiving the ball under pressure. They will not need to find acres of room in order to be effective. Typically, English football coaching has taught players to spread out "High and Wide", often as far from the ball as possible. The best football in the world has never been played like this.
  • Football practice should be game-based. We do not believe that techniques learnt in isolation from the game-decisions they relate to are easily transferred from non-opposed to opposed environments. In other words, we believe that the Game of Football is needed to create children who are techcnically excellent and competent decision makers (not boring drills with "stand here, run to here" type instructions).
  • Games that are small-sided mean that each child experiences more repeated game-situations. Repitition of many similar and realistic game situations helps the child learn Game Craft and Game Understanding. Essentially this means they build a repertiore of solutions or possible solutions for the situations they find themselves in. Click here for the evidence for small-sided games.
  • Children can learn to learn. And teachers can help children develop the mindset of a learner. What we say, the feedback we give, how we interact, the questions we ask - these can all portray the idea that we are all on a learning journey. There is no such thing as "can't" - just "can't yet". MoF believes in working with parents to develop the traits of a Growth Mindset.

Unfortunately it is not possible to calculate the difference in Learning that happens on different football programmes. However we strongly believe that there is a MASSIVE difference in the Learning that happens between a programme like MoF (that understands and embraces the above concepts) and a programme which does not understand how Learning happens.

Further Reading:

Developing a Growth Mindset

Books: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, Mindset by Carol Dweck, Wise Up by Guy Claxton

Finally, here is a very inspiring video about Learning. We share Sugata Mitra's belief that learning is different from teaching. "It's not about making learning happen, it's about letting learning happen"...

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Mark Carter


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