It was once the staple diet of every hopeful young soccer player in the world. Long before there were academies, training schools and weekend skills programs the only place for a youngster to hone their skills was on the streets, in the parks and at school with their mates. Amongst the jumpers for goalposts, 22 a side and games on cobbled streets kids were not afraid to try things out of the ordinary. Away from the prying eyes of pushy parents and Sunday league coaches nothing was impossible and mistakes didn’t matter. Simulating what you had seen your heroes do at the weekend or on the highlights reel simply to out do your rivals in the tricks stakes was all that mattered. A win could set you up for the entire week allowing you to stroll around the streets with your favorite bag of chips, chest puffed out and confidence sky high. It would make you feell your almost untouchable and it is here that the true worth of street football can be seen.

“Street football has its similarities in small sided games and futsal. In that it works the hemisphere of the brain that channels creativity – the creative side of the brain if you were – we British spend too much time being organised and therefore work the pragmatic side of the brain. This is completely evident in the end product of play – see Neymar vs. Stewart Downing or James Milner for extreme examples,” says on-line football journalist and football coach Jed Davies.

 “At Barcelona they use a training method that translates to ‘chaotic football’ – this is a training session where their are no dimensions, no distinctive team colours and so on – this is a method that enhances peripheral vision and in many ways rains the transition of winning the ball back – those first few seconds of deciding whether to counter attack or play out of trouble and back into build up play.

 Manchester United also have a street football scheme. As do Liverpool – in their curriculum they mention it.”

I remember it so clearly my self. My brother and I would use this time for experimentation. Chipping the ball in to a bin from an ever-increasing distance was one such practice. Heads and volleys against the power station door was another while playing against my bro and his mates gave me the chance to play against people stronger than I was. They were bigger, older bullies and I was tested beyond what many people would see as reasonable competition and development. In fact my greatest ever goal came in one such game as I proceeded to flick the ball over a defenders head and then strike it on the volley past a bamboozled goalkeeper. I took my bow and still remember the moment of satisfaction as the ball slipped in to the bottom corner. I am sure I learnt more in those sessions than I did doing laps with my Sunday League team during Saturday training sessions. And I am equally sure that if I had tried such a move during a real game for Wallasey Albion I would have been quietly advised afterwards to “keep things simple and get the ball forward”.

It helped my technique I am certain of that. It is sad to see that street soccer is dying in many parts of the world. With the urban sprawl decreasing available space, fussy neighbors and overzealous police quick to break up any games that do get under way it is becoming increasingly difficult. For me it is no coincidence that places like South America and Africa tend to produce players with more natural and creative imagination than the likes of England, Australia and the USA. For these players the only chance they get to play is on the street or, as Maradona did before being spotted by a passing Argentinos Jr coach, on a local piece of waste ground using almost any spherical shaped object they can find as a ball. Maradona isn’t the only player to have learnt his football this way. AC Milan legend, George Weah, grew up playing his football on the red dusty streets of the Clara Town slum of Monrovia in his native Liberia. Brazilian star Neymar also admitted that he to worked on his skills through a love of playing on the streets, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s mum would let him miss school to play and practice his skills.

The play in these street games is hard fast, and furious. Your mind needs to work over time as events do not fall in to the usual script of a regular training session or match, which are usually dictated by coaches or over zealous parents. Players are suddenly forced to work things out for themselves. Your movement around the pitch, which of the opposition is to be targeted in one on one situations and the skills used to get past them.

Street soccer is raw form of the game. Can play anywhere. Kids find solutions to problems themselves,” says former Socceroo, David Zdrilic.

The Barcelona concept of “chaotic football” as a way to fill the void left by the demise of street soccer has been now picked up by a number of other footballing authorities. After a pretty dismal 2006 World Cup campaign football authorities in the USA wanted answers and more importantly solutions to their sides lack of creativity. The answer came in the form of an article called “Street Smarts” written by youth development expert, Roni Mansur.

In the article Roni looked at the number of problems faced by the sport in the US. Stating that a lack of street soccer is simply helping to produce a conveyor belt of players that lack creativity while polarizing the game making it a middle to upper-class sport because of the cost.

“The Streeet Soccer concept needs to be incorporated in to the nations youth soccer coaching philosophy and methodology to help foster creativity and imagination as we develop our next generation of soccer players,” says Roni Masur.

 “US soccer experiences are almost always supervised and controlled by adults, while an absence of Street Soccer makes it exclusively a middle to upper-class sport reducing the pool of players to choose from. Street Soccer means anybody can play.”

In many countries the problem is to re introduce the idea of street football to a young generation who may only have played in school or with their club at the weekend. But the idea is still there embedded in the countries history with the kids parents and in the stories of superstars like Johan Cruyff inventing skills on the streets of Amsterdam or Steven Gerrard motoring along the abandoned allotments of Liverpool. In Australia though we have a totally different problem. Street soccer has never been a big part of our culture so street games that have been passed down from generation to generation-in Brazil simply don’t exist here.

In my mid-teens I also played indoor football, which had just taken off in Bauru, for a team called Radium, and took part in the first futebol de salão championship to be held in Bauru. We won. Futebol de salão was a new thing and I took to it like a fish to water. It’s a lot quicker than football on grass. You have to think really quickly because everyone is close to each other. Learning the game probably helped me think on my feet better. It was through futebol de salão that I first got my chance to play with adults. I was about fourteen, and I can remember that there was a tournament for which I was told I was too young to take part. In the end, I was allowed to play. I ended up top scorer, with fourteen or fifteen goals. That gave me a lot of confidence. I knew then not to be afraid of whatever might come.”

Pelé speaking on Futebol de Salão            

Here are some ideas for coaches to get their kids playing street soccer.

Let The Kids Decide (Chaotic Football)

One of the defining factors of street soccer is that the kids decide on everything from the size of the pitch and goals to who is on which team. Letting the kids take control this way with in your session will show them that they don’t need an adult to organize them to be able to play a game of football. Roni Masur also suggests throwing away any distinctive coloured clothing such as bibs to differentiate between the two teams. This helps improve their peripheral vision and makes them think more before passing the ball.

Heads and Volleys

This is a great game to use as a warm up as the kids arrive to training or as a warm down game before they leave. These times are usually spent just knocking balls around rather aimlessly. So why not give them a task or game that will not only improve certain aspects of their technique but most importantly one they take away and play almost anywhere.

Played in a full sized goal with a goal keeper and any number of outfield players the object is to score as many goals as possible using either your head or through a spectacular volley.

The rules are simple, if the ball bounces before it is struck in to the net then the last person to touch it takes his place in goal. If the goalkeeper catches the ball by either intercepting a cross or keeping hold of a shot on goal then once again the last person to touch the ball swaps with the man between the sticks.

The skills learnt in this game are many. Crossing accuracy and attacking headers are at the fore, but even the handling and judgment skills of the goalkeeper are given a stern work out. It is such a simple game but the possibilities for experimentation by the player without recrimination are endless. It is through games like this that players are able to imitate their idols and practice the tricks that they have seen performed so effortlessly on the world stage.

“Quite simple,the more you do something the better you become,” Mark Bosnich.

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Imagine a swinging cross dropping on the edge of the box to a player who has spent little time practicing and perfecting his volleying technique. Now imagine it falling to the cultured boot of a heads and volleys advocate. A player who has seen the situation a million times before, a player that has the confidence to step in to it and strike the ball cleanly towards goal. I know which one I would choose

‘All that stuff about hitting the ball in a certain spot in a certain way really there’s no secret. The important thing is practice. It makes perfect, as I was taught in school. The boy practices every day, that’s the reason he’s so good. We go for a cup of tea and leave him to it,” said Sir Alex Ferguson after watching Cristiano Ronaldo hit a wonder goal from a free kick in 2008.

 ‘He practices all the time, 20 or 25 minutes after training; there he is with the balls. Wall up, bang, bang, bang, bang. He takes about 30 kicks every day, so . . .’

 Cubbies

“My game was just me and my ball. I would dribble anyone I came across, making the 1-2 with the walls of houses,” Marcos Flores.

 Cubbies is a game that I and probably millions of other kids around the UK have used throughout the years to waste away breaks and lunch times during school. The premise is simple, one goal and one goalkeeper while the rest of the participants are split in to either single or double cubbies. From there the game can be played in two different ways. The way we used to play in good old Hilbre High School was this, if you or your partner scored you were through to the next round while the last person or pairing were sent packing. This continues round after round until just one cubby remains with bragging rights until the next time the bell rings for break.

The other way is simply to see which of the cubbies scores the most goals.

Again the skills used during this game are many, but more importantly instinctive. The number of one Vs one situations that the players are forced in to happen at almost every possession forcing them to go past their man by being quick, direct and inventive. It also encourages shooting from acute angles, movement off the ball and the ability to find that killer ball. Beyond that there is the defensive side of the game where skills such teaming up and marking the best players out of the game can be imperative if you are to continue in the competition. This in turn gets those players to think more about their game. Suddenly they have to move more and make better, well thought out runs if they are to get on the ball make that all important next round.

Coaching these games is also simple and one word sums up the atmosphere that you should try and create to get the best out of your players, encouragement. Encourage the clever round the corner pass. Encourage the smart run in to space, every Cruyff turn and attempt at the Maradona spin, even if they fail. Make them believe anything is possible and reduce their fear of failure, as it is this fear that paralyses a lot of young footballing talent. We need to produce players that play with creative freedom and that can only happen if we introduce them to this type of freedom at an early age.

“Let the game be the teacher,” says former Football Federation Victoria Coach Darren Tan.

 Football Tennis

Football Tennis is the game made famous by the bronzed Brazilians down on the beaches of Rio de Janiero. Every time there is a TV show about everything that the famed South American footballing nation has to offer they throw in a clip of buff bodies deftly controlling the ball and knocking it back over a beach volley ball net. It looks pretty spectacular and seems to reiterate exactly how technically superior they are to the rest of the world.

What most people seem to forget is that Ronaldo, Pele, Kaka and the rest of the Rio beach goers weren’t born with this skills already engrained in to their bodies. They aren’t genetically passed down through the generations or, as I was once told in primary school, they are not created in a special scientific football lab test tube. In fact there is only one way to pick up these skills and that is through practice, practice and more practice.

Again this can be introduced in to your training sessions pretty easily as the kids warm up before a session. Start off with a ball each and teach the simple steps of keep ups, one knee catch, one knee catch. They you increase to two etc. Another way is to let them have one bounce between each kick. For many kids this is a lot more enticing because it seems easier. This can also be played pretty easily with more than one child paving the way to some quality games of soccer tennis in the future.

The progression is simple but very effective with the kids picking up skills such as comfort with the ball and timing. Learning these skills will also increase a child’s confidence to take on the game and try new, creative ways of solving the many footballing problems. This is of course what we are looking harness in all of our youth players. Confidence is key to kids enjoying what they do. The more they enjoy it the more they will play. The more they want to play the better they will become.

“When they are not training young prospects should play on the streets with their friends; this can be crucial to a players development both as a person and a football player. Under these conditions they can play with no-one telling them what to do and they can be totally free. It is this freedom that enhances and encourages their creativity,” Ajax Football Club. Taken from the European club associations report on youth academies.

 Different Sized Balls

At Dutch club Ajax there is apparently a street soccer centre where young prospect are told to go at least twice a week to play with their friends in a relaxed environment. There they will find soccer tennis courts, five a-side pitches and a whole host of different sized and weighted balls. I my self remembers that playing on the streets would often consist of using whatever ball we could find. When I was very young it was actually a rarity that that I would find my self in possession of a real soccer ball so my brother and me would usually knock together our own out of rolled up socks, plastic bags and a lot of sticky tape. But was this helping my technique in anyway as the people at Ajax seem to think it does with their budding superstars?

“I definitely think so,” says Darren Tan.

“Growing up in Singapore we played a game called, Sepak Takraw. It’s like soccer tennis played over a badminton net. But for this game we use a ball woven out of cane. To get a real feel for the ball we would play barefoot as your touch had to be soft. There is no doubt that working with this ball helped my technique on the soccer field.”

 “There is definitely no reason why you can’t throw a futsal ball in to your training sessions, which is a little bit heavier or a beach ball that moves through the air a lot and can be hard to control. It gives them something different to think about and will improve their technique.”

Remember football is a game and should be fun. For me the game gives you a never-ending chance to be creative and unleashing your creativity can be a life changing experience. This is why if has earned the nickname of the beautiful game. But this enjoyment and beauty can be quickly taken away from children by coaches and parents trying to win at all costs. Forcing kids as young as five in to positional play or by screaming at them when mistakes are made. You wouldn’t do that when your child is learning to walk so why do it while they learn the game of soccer. Let them be free and take the game back to the streets.