Benny Sip


Giving The Beautiful Game Back To The Player: Zwolle Zwensdays

We've Stolen It. Now, It's Time to Give it back to them...

“Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their own lives. It is also the primary means by which children practice and acquire the physical and intellectual skills that are essential for success in the culture in which they are growing. - Ken Robinson

The game is the best teacher. The best teacher understands this. Nothing teaches like the game itself. Nothing the master coach can do, say, or conjure can replace the rich learning environment the game creates by itself. 

If this is true, the role of the modern coach working in player development needs redefining.

Moments of intervention quickly take on a much more deliberate intent. Words either become effective tools in the learning process or opportunities for expression of the ego. The power of the voice is recognised and taken seriously. Distractions, disruptions and white noise take on an entirely new meaning. Less becomes more. Intentions and behaviours align. The phrase deliberate purposeful practice (D.P.P), or deliberate purposeful play as we are starting to use, becomes much more about the environment that the coach creates, and not visa versa. 

Nothing that we do, no amount of toys we buy or ‘quality time’ or special training we give our children, can compensate for the freedom we take away. The things that children learn through their own initiatives, in free play, cannot.
— Ken Robinson

It's time we give the beautiful game back to the players.

The 21st century football coach has done exactly the opposite though. Stealing the beautiful game from the players. Stripping the essence from it, taking the whole and breaking into indiscernible and unrecognisable parts. Cones. Lines. Restrictions. Rules. Regulations. Governance.

Are we aware that the football educations of past "World - Class" players were grounded in a free play, unstructured, street soccer - esque environment? Do we understand this? Do we really get it? Do we agree with the facts? And if so, how are we taking that information and applying it to the 21st century "structured," "controlled," often called "academy," pay to play environment.

Back to the modern coach. Who is he or she?

An environment designer. A culture creator. What was the line from The Field of Dreams? "Build it and they will come." That's it. Build the environment and then unleash the players into it. Let them be free. Let them be wild. Let them be wolves.

Zwolle Zwensdays, (PEC Zwolle Eredevisie) are our attempt at giving the beautiful game back to the player. The script goes something like this.

Coach: Boys and girls, you've all arrived at the park. Fourteen of you have showed up. You've ditched your bicycles pitch side. Johnny has nicked his older brothers' favourite ball. Here's a stop watch. Pick two teams, design your session, and play. By the way, mum is going to be calling you in for tea in about 75 minutes. Don't waste a minute. Finally, remember I'm not really here tonight, so referee your own game. Go!!!

You'll be amazed at how much relinquishing the illusion of control aids in the learning process... for the coach too.

You see, the master teacher realises that he is not a direction manual. He is simply a catalyst...The master teacher has no need to leave his fingerprints on the final product. For in doing so, he will have compromised the sacred bond between the student and his craft...The master teacher realizes that learning is a sloppy and non-linear affair. And it is often the side effects, rather than the intended goal, that bear the greatest fruit.
— Kapil Gupta (



Ben Sippola