While COVID19 has in many ways wreaked havoc on Australian football, ironically it has also encouraged clubs and players to be innovative when it comes to training and playing.
This creativity and lateral thinking is exactly what numerous Australian football icons, including FFA’s newly founded ‘Starting XI’, have identified as the key to helping Australian football move forward.
Former Matildas legend Joey Peters, who is part of the Starting XI, believes her popular Game Play Learn (GPL) facilitating methodology, may just provide the creative spark football down-under needs as we head towards Qatar2022 and Australia/NZ 2023. And the good news is, some people are catching on to Peters’ ideas.
Over the past 11 years, FFA’s curriculum has built a football system in Australia that is lamented by many as robotic and predictable. GPL essentially allows kids the freedom to showcase their skills and come up with innovative ways to develop their potential, while traditional ‘coaches’ play the role of a facilitator rather than a instructor.
“GPL’s philosophy is to ‘Hide Learning In FUN’ and provide a motivating learning environment for kids to come up with their own methods that work for them, rather than be told what to do,” explains Peters, who won 110 caps for Australia. “It worked for Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, my idol, who learned his football on the streets of Amsterdam.”
Peters’ philosophy is well-founded, with its ecological underpinnings suggesting GPL goes to the fabric of real learning, where children come up with their own ideas and solutions whilst adapting and changing as they continue to learn in a fun environment.
“GPL works because learning through play is often a forgotten art,” says Peters. “We think learning is from teaching rather than experiencing it for yourself, we try and replicate professional environments thinking its how kids develop rather than suiting the environment to the child - chaotic, creative, fun, social, and by choice.
“This drives a passion for the game which in turn motivates them to learn more, compete for more, strive more, not because they have to but because they want to.
“It's what I call 'Learning Hidden in Fun'.”
While Peters’ ideas would have been dismissed as too left field in the past, slowly but surely, some elite junior development clubs have decided to try out her philosophy. Northern NSW powerhouse club Broadmeadow Magic have decided to introduce GPL into their NPL Under 9-12 girls program for 10 weeks.
Peters’ admits its exciting to see higher level clubs try and bring creativity back to football. She was adamant GPL works for all ages and for all levels of ability.
“Whether it’s kids starting out, those who just want to play for fun or for those who have high aspirations, GPL has value for everyone.
“Whether kids want to kick the ball around with their mates or play for Australia one day, GPL’s philosophy is to help kids bring out their creative freedom and achieve what their potential is rather than meet others expectations.”
Peters, who played in three World Cups (1999, 2003 and 2007), once coached the Australian Under 13s girls team using traditional coaching methods she now admits didn’t work as hoped.
She insists one of the reasons coaches and clubs don’t know how to think outside the box is because they aren’t sure of how to bring an alternative program to life. This is where GPL comes in.
“GPL is there to help traditional coaches, parents, kids, their clubs and schools to have a mechanism or outlet to allow it to happen.
“Free play, playing the game in different ways, big games, small-sided games, four goals, one goal, multiball, getting the players to make more decisions not just in the game but 'what do you want to do today?'...Its Facilitating, not Coaching.
“If it works for Cruyff, Pele, Maradonna and all those legendary footballers who learned the game by trying things themselves and seeing what worked and what didn’t, why can’t Australian kids try it?”
Peters’ ideas are urgently needed if Australian football at the youth level is to make progress.
With the Young Matildas failing to make the last seven Youth World Cups, and the Young Socceroos having missed the last three there is warrant for concern.
“Some of the best coaches in world football have tried this innovative style and intertwined it with their own coaching methods,” says Peters.
“Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Italian legend Carolina Morace (recently linked to being a potential future Matildas coach), have often stated creativity, fun and imagination is the key to footballing success, which is the very foundation that GPL is built on.
“Trying something new might just be the breath of fresh air our game needs especially as we welcome the world in 2023.”