Recently I had the great fortune to travel to Peru on a soccer charity expedition. It was a truly profound experience and I will be forever grateful that I got the opportunity to help people less fortunate in the remote mountain communities.
Creativity in the mountains
Being a soccer coach my mind never wanders far from the game and one fun moment during the trip truly struck me. After a fun morning working with the young people in the village me and the other coaches were challenged to a 5 v 5 soccer match against some of the Parents.
So the scene was set , a 5 v 5 game on hard concrete school ground high in the mountains of Cusco, Peru. I was immediately impressed by the technical / creative ability and Soccer IQ of each and every one of the Peruvian players , they were all extremely comfortable on the ball and always wanted possession in tight areas and under pressure. As the game progressed its safe to say our team of coaches was thoroughly outclassed and we proceeded to lose the game by a big margin , as a competitive soccer player who has played all my life I was amazed by the level of player in such a remote community.
Peru vs Scotland
The Peruvian players had no access to elite coaching or facilities , the equipment and playing surface was below standard to say the least but these guys lived and breathed the game of soccer , but growing up in Scotland so did I so why was there such a huge difference in technical ability?
Firstly this is a small sample of a much bigger issue , for years Scotland's National Team has struggled to technically compete with other countries all over the world , especially South American countries such as Peru. It can be argued there are many reasons for this , Scotland's focus on winning over development at young ages , the reluctance to change to summer soccer where the weather is better and the lack of professional coaching at grass roots levels to name a few. The aforementioned reasons are all valid and there are many more but Peru has little to no infrastructure , facilities are sub standard and there is no money to improve any of this at grassroots level but they continually develop technical creative players.
Playing with freedom
I am not here to provide all the answers , but rather than focus on what Peru doesn't have as a soccer nation I want to focus on what I feel they do have.
Freedom its a big word , and in a soccer sense it brings to mind pictures of a skilled winger flying past players or a number 10 treading passes and slicing open defenses something you see Peruvian players do often. Growing up in Scotland I was encouraged by my coaches never to dribble to always play simple and safe, I played the same position most of my life and by the time I was 11 I was playing on huge fields and touching the ball around 5 times in 90 minutes. The point I am trying to make is creativity was coached out of me , I had no freedom to make decisions and with the field being so big if I did get the ball it was often under little pressure so my first touch and decision making were never challenged.
Many young Peruvian players grow up playing small sided games with no coaches on tiny concrete fields constantly changing position , moving and getting hundreds of touches on the ball. These players grow up with a freedom and fearlessness to make mistakes try new skills and be creative. The environment they are in guides their development the small fields mean they are always under pressure and need to make quick decisions , the small teams mean everyone plays every position and has to be comfortable in all areas of the pitch. The hard concrete fields make the soccer ball unpredictable constantly challenging the players and maybe most importantly they do not have a coach dictating every move.
The main conclusion I drew from my time in Peru was as a coach you need to let players express themselves , they need to make decisions and have the ability to make mistakes , I am not saying that street soccer is the answer to everything and that statement is nothing new but I think its important to allow players the freedom to express themselves and enjoy the game and then that environment will
create technical skilled players.