The Influence of Culture on Sports Methodologies
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
By Marcelo Antonelli and Tiago Corradine
In recent decades, discussions about different pedagogical strategies for teaching football have grown with the advantages and disadvantages debated in a wide variety of settings. Despite this, culture is an infrequent variable in football narratives. We consider it a determining factor for methodological choices, and find it essential to identify its influence on training programs.
In this article, we will start discussions on this theme through the analysis of cross-cultural experiences, promoting reflections on a more comprehensive teaching-learning process than usual.
How Do You Decide on a Training Method? (By Marcelo Antonelli)
What determines the way you coach? The answer seems obvious and has to do with your life experiences. That is, if you took a football license, the content you had access to will likely influence your methodological choices. If you studied Physical Education and took courses in Sports Training, part of this academic background will be taken with you to the football field. The way you have been trained will also influence your choices. In addition, if you work in a club that follows a specific methodological proposal, there is likely to be a direction to follow.
But what is the weight of culture in your methodological choices? Is this culture capable of influencing other football players, such as athletes and coaching staff? These are difficult questions to answer. It may be necessary to experience different cultural experiences to form a more precise opinion on this topic.
In this sense, I grew up in Brazil playing and coaching both Futsal and Soccer. I then played Futsal in Italy for six years also spending a semester in Sweden and England. In 2006, I moved to the USA where I spent 8 years coaching on the East Coast and now 5 years coaching on the West Coast (California).
In every major geographical change, cultural change was imminent. Of course, we must be parsimonious in our cultural assumptions, as these are subjective experiences influenced by individual cultural background, producing unique ideas and actions. However, by generalizing to understand the whole, we can associate geographical changes with cultural differences.
The point that we will discuss in this article is whether cultural differences can affect football methodologies, as well as athletes' and families’ views of the training process. And, more specifically, to relate the two countries where I spent most of my life, Brazil and the USA.
A few weeks ago, Tiago Corradine, a friend who studied Sport Sciences with me at UNICAMP (a Brazilian University), sent me some pages about his experiences during four months as a youth soccer coach in the USA. While reading the material, I remembered going through very similar experiences since my arrival in the USA in 2006.
Although we had been discussing different methodologies and other pedagogical strategies for developing players and teams for years, reading his materials made it clear to me that these pedagogical discussions should be considered from a cultural perspective.
And is that important? Absolutely! After all, our pedagogical decisions have a great influence on the development of our players. The questions we are considering is what we can learn from the influence of culture and how it can affect the way we lead our teams. In this sense, let's learn a little more about Tiago Corradine's experience.
A Brazilian Experience in the United States (by Tiago Corradine)
For us Brazilians, football has a greater sense of ownership than for an American. The Brazilian is much more identified with this modality, as it is an essential part of the culture. Children get a ball as one of their first toys. They learn to kick it as they experience their first steps. All of this is very strong in Brazilian's culture. On the other hand, the USA has a vast repertoire of sports. Just check the expressive results in the Olympics and the countless championships of different modalities, which have a prominent place in the United States sports media. This is reflected in the sports culture of schools and in public spaces dedicated to sports. There are plenty of options in the USA, while in Brazil the picture is quite different.
Americans use sports as an educational medium, and the role of sport in the formation of American citizens is valued. Even without reaching the professional or Olympic level, American society encourages and values sport as part of its routine. This picture is quite different in Brazil, where football is seen as a possibility for social ascension. The other modalities are not encouraged and do not gain as much visibility in the media. Considering that a significant portion of the population has little access to health, education, security and formal employment, football ends up becoming a very popular option for socioeconomic growth.
This can help us understand the importance of football in Brazilian society, as opposed to the USA, where most young people have many educational options and, consequently, can plan and create more conditions for personal and professional success. All of this goes beyond the 4 lines of the field. It is a social, political and educational project that a society builds as a nation. There are years of history, choices and consequences. It is not something that can be changed overnight. It is a process.
Although football was influenced by English society, Brazil has created a game identity that conquered the world. Other nations have also created their own style of play, such as Germany, Italy, Holland, and Argentina, but Brazilian culture had a different way to embrace this sport. The creativity that Brazilians manifest in their livelihood is present in football. The cheerful way of looking at life, despite the difficulties, is part of the Brazilian style of playing. The ethnic diversity of our population has also been incorporated into the sport. That is why the Brazilian and football form an interesting combination.
Football is the most-watched sport in the world. It has crossed borders and has become one of the most profitable businesses on the planet. In addition to being the largest culture even in the world, it has also become an excellent financial investment. American society, following this phenomenon from the outside, decided that it should participate in this opportunity and tried to add football to its sports culture. However, a change of this magnitude does not happen overnight. In addition, there are sports with strong roots in North American culture, such as football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, and other Olympic sports.
The USA exhibits its hegemony in these modalities, exporting a certain sporting pattern in the world. Football has not yet reached that power of belonging and relevance in North American society. This influences how the sport is practiced. The Brazilian plays and has fun. The North American trains soccer in a way quite different from what happens with other sports. Countless times I have witnessed children and adults having fun playing basketball on public courts, football on the lawns of the parks, and baseball in the backyards of their homes.
When reflecting on the game and the pedagogy of football, I am led to think about the freedom to play, as it is during play that we stimulate creativity, as well as relevant environmental interactions. Coaching Football is something far beyond the repetition of technical gestures. I believe that a good pedagogical approach is not one that praises and classifies a single gesture as correct, which should be imitated in an automated way without considering decision making and the countless possibilities generated by the complexity of the game. Good pedagogy is one that allows the student to experience a teaching-learning process based on freedom of exploration, making the child build his motor gesture based on the essential and general skills of the sport, which together form the basic skills of the game.
The game and its fundamentals are important themes in the teaching-learning process, but they are not the only ones. I suggest addressing content such as habits that lead to the expansion of the motor repertoire, football as a cultural manifestation, in addition to adopting strategies aimed at developing solidarity, cooperation, autonomy and creativity. Daily issues should also be addressed, as they are interconnected with our way of thinking and acting, making it possible to promote reflections on football in the realm of economics, history, politics, health, morals, ethics, media, society, etc.
The idea is to make the student a driving and transforming agent of his time, influenced by collective thinking and citizenship that helps him understand the circumstances of our society, in addition to creating conditions to live well, regardless of sport as a leisure or professional practice. In this sense, if we understand pedagogy as a reflected path that leads to knowledge, we will soon be able to define “what,” “how,” and “for whom” to teach football, this being understood as a game, historically constructed, loaded with popular signs, symbols, fantasies and dreams (SCAGLIA, 1999).
According to the constructivist theory, Freire (2003) highlights four pedagogical principles guiding the entire teaching-learning process in football, bringing back the ludic nature and creating space for the use of popular children's culture. The first concerns the need to teach football to everyone, not discriminating against those who have less skill for the game. The second principle reinforces the first, emphasizing that teaching is not enough, one must teach well and everyone. That is, those who play with ease should improve, while those less proficient should also acquire new knowledge. The third principle states that it is not enough for teaching to be restricted to the practice of football, as it must be possible in the pedagogical praxis to recover ethical and moral values, indicating that the teacher must be able to teach much more than football. The fourth and last, refers to the pressing need to make students like the sport, taking it with them for the rest of their lives (SCAGLIA, 1999).
As for the development of motor skills, Freire (2003) says that the muscles can only perform two actions, contract and relax. When imagining that our muscles behave in a binary way, it is interesting to think that even with this apparent “limitation” we are able to produce complex movements, especially during the practice of different sports. According to Freire (2003), to teach a sport it is necessary that there are some basic requirements, derived from their games, being adapted for the child's learning and directed to teaching aspects in football.
“Teaching football to everyone: Anyone can learn to play football, while not ignoring the importance of genetic factors, but these factors cannot prevent anyone from learning. We cannot genetically interfere with the formation of knowledge, but we can interfere with learning. So that those who already know how to play football should be guided to learn to play better, those who know very little or nothing about football should receive all of the attention until they learn at least enough. To teach football well to everyone: It is not enough to teach, it is necessary to teach well. The task of those who teach football is not to teach anything. We have to teach each student, no matter what skill level they start with, the best techniques, with the greatest care, so that, over time, they can express skills to play good, quality football. It may take more or less time, but it doesn’t matter, every pedagogical process takes time. Teaching more than football to everyone: In addition to teaching football to everyone and teaching it well, the educational task involves always preparing for something more than the specific activity of the school.
Those who learn football can develop a diverse collection of skills, and can take advantage of these skills in many other sports. In addition, you may be learning to live in groups, to build rules, to discuss and even disagree with those rules, and to change them, with a rich contribution to your moral and social development. Teach to enjoy the sport: The practices must be dynamic, happy, and free, according to the typical characteristics of a child or adolescent. Mechanical, routine and monotonous practices end up teaching one to not like the sport” (Freire, 2003, p. 8-9).
Influence Beyond the Field (by Marcelo Antonelli)
Reading this material and recalling my experiences in both countries, it is evident that certain characteristics of the culture influence the way of training and perceiving the process, whether on the part of players, parents or coaches.
And the discussion goes far beyond purely methodological rhetoric, such as debates between the analytical or game-based method. In fact, although our focus is methodological in order to optimize the results of the training, we cannot ignore the fact that a small portion of the practitioners will play professionally. The influence of culture in training transcends the methodological choices assigned to the game's content.
This influence can shape values, communication skills and even a player's view of his role in society. Considering the world that we live in, each day more connected and with the benefits and challenges that technology imposes, cross-cultural experiences can be important in the development of players, on and off the field. We need to consider that the cross-cultural experience is not limited to exchanges between different countries. In fact, a simple bridge that separates two neighborhoods can be the communication link between people with different and complementary knowledge.
What factors from other cultures could we add to our pedagogical practices for teaching and learning basic sports? Do these additional elements benefit the sport, citizens or both?
There is a lot of knowledge from all over the world, with cross-cultural experiences promoting human development. From the United States, we admire a grassroots sports model that is a billion-dollar industry. It has a lot to teach Brazil in terms of organizing and marketing, in addition to the possibilities for interaction between sports, academic and professional training. From our experiences, we take the dream, the passion and the improvisation. From Brazil, we admire freedom, creativity, plasticity and the joy of playing. It is as if the USA is the reason and Brazil, the emotion. It is as if science predominates in the USA and, in Brazil, art. One complements the other, like Yin-Yang.
To exemplify our conclusions, we want to share an interesting metaphor between football and the theater. When a group starts building a play, there are several people involved, such as actors, screenwriters, costume designers and makeup artists. After several rehearsals the show is ready and the season begins in the theater. When we, the spectators, watch the show, we notice only the performance of the actors, disregarding the team that worked to make the show possible.
It is like that in football. After all, we have players, coaches, physical trainers, physiotherapists, and nutritionists, among many other professionals. When we watch the game, we observe the athletes and their dedication in the game, with their strategies established and trained during the week, with the help of the entire team of professionals who made the game possible. Both the actor and the athlete are people who act / play. Each has a historical and cultural background.
The game/scene does not always happen as it was trained/rehearsed, requiring the player/actor to make decisions in a short period of time. Improvisation is created - a moment when the human being who plays/acts reveals his essence. It is at this very moment that art and science are confused.
In this perspective, we will end with the poem of a friend Eduardo Zuma who is currently a technical assistant at São Paulo FC.
“And what is football (for me)?
Football is a Sunday barefoot, playing ball with friends.
It is my first love and my daily therapy.
In the rain or the sun, chasing the ball, I forget the time.
Gradually, we grow, our feet on the ground before, now we wear cleats.
And what changes?
Rules change, the size of the beams and the measurements of the field change.
And the love for the ball?
Love never dies,
Football made me grow, it made me a better person.
The boots are annoying,
The coach sometimes pisses me off,
And the people around could be silent and let the kids enjoy the game.
But, it's still football ...
Instead of giving up, I preferred to persist,
Love is not perfect
Maybe that's why football enchants me.
Faced with imperfections, frustrating attempts, painful defeats in which I felt alone,
But I chose to see the bright side of life.
My best friends, my best experiences are intact in my memory,
Some victories ... all this was what football gave to me.
Like me, says a wise Professor (João Freire) “Football has everything. Everything good and bad. ”
I choose the love that the game awoke in me,
The solidarity that my friend had with me when I was not in my best days.
And if your feet are no longer bare,
My heart goes on following the principles of when football was still a Sunday game with friends.
Allow yourself to be the best you can be,
The faith of your heart and the strength of your mind
They are capable of UNIMAGINABLE things!
• Scaglia, Alcides José. "Football that is learned and football that is taught." (1999). (Masters dissertation)
• Freire, João Batista. Pedagogy of football. Associated Authors, 2003.