9 March 2018 – Previous pieces have seen me touch on the likes of Beach Soccer and Futsal as key development tools for youth while also showcasing their overall importance to football as a whole. However, there seems to be another footballing medium which has been forgotten about altogether – Street Football!

Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi, Pele – all claim (with colourful stories) to have begun their footballing days on the streets of the towns in which they grew up. A 2014 FIFA World Cup (hosted by Brazil) advert campaign saw a little kid running through the slums of Rio de Janeiro while kicking a ball around and eventually ending up a world star. Is there a metaphor in this i.e. a child honing his skills in the harshness of the streets that results in unique attributes to set him apart from others by providing him with a few rare tools? I certainly think so and here’s why.

Proper, methodical coaching is most obviously important, particularly at grassroots level. Teaching kids the necessary basics of the game including key technical and tactical aspects is a must. However, how much of such education hinders and limits a player’s natural abilities? Such a topic warrants food-for-thought and is something not many coaches ever stop to think about.

In my days at school our soccer coach had specific drills for us to follow (which is the case in most schools and institutions) while we merely wanted to kick the ball around and have fun. While being queued up for such drills, most would joke around and discuss what a waste of time this was. Not only this but we would feel a hint of freedom being taken away when tactics were discussed and we then had to follow rules and instructions. While in training (and not even realizing it at the time), we were never told about, exposed to or engaged in ‘real-time’ game-day situations.

Being surrounded by opposing players at the corner flag, trying to execute a quick ‘one-two’ pass just outside the 18 yard box or mere dribbling and attempting that ‘shibobo’, were never practiced as the majority of the focus was always on tactics and strategy.

Allowing kids the freedom to develop technical skills when younger allows them to adapt much better at more elite levels to the tactical side of things.

Pele himself once described the exact ‘street’ in which he learned to play football and went on to state: “Street football keeps kids off drugs”.

In a South African context one immediately thinks of township football which indeed overlaps, as many youngsters are seen kicking around any object similar to a football on the dusty streets and fields where they live.

Perhaps a more official focus on actual street football is required by the relevant administrators with the implementation of tournaments, leagues and competitions (even if only for the youth). America currently does this and has official organisations such as Street Soccer USA for example.

Flair, style and trickery – key ingredients in football and best honed in the streets as an excited kid. It seems to be a neglected medium that could benefit a country’s football to no end. No flags, no field markings, a drawn goalpost on a wall and no formal rules . . . something so simple could eventually unearth or even enhance the next Lionel Messi!

By: Dhirshan Gobind