My youngest participated in the FC Barcelona Summer Camp here in the Bay Area two weeks ago. My older two participated two years ago.
Authentic FC Barcelona coaches fly in from Spain to run these camps throughout the country every summer.
Before I describe our experiences, take a look at the above photo. Why do you think the kids are lined up like this? I’ll share the reason toward the end of this post.
I can recommend this summer camp because the kids are exposed to a truly positive futbol experience.
The soccer specific coaching is very good, of course, but, just as important, the coaches also emphasize and teach values.
These values are explained on the FC Barcelona website and include respect, effort, ambition, teamwork, and humility. And under ‘ambition’ you will see discipline and patience.
These aren’t just empty words – I’ve seen these in action many times in different situations these last few years – during summer camps here in the U.S. (both outdoor and futsal), during visits to FC Barcelona in Spain where my kids trained with Barça coaches, and during a tournament in Spain where we competed against and were able to observe FC Barcelona youth teams and coaches.
What makes these experiences so positive is the warmth and passion of these coaches. They expect a lot of course, but they don’t let these performance expectations overtake a values-based approach to developing youngsters.
The coaches never raised their voices (apart from making sure instructions can be heard, of course) and I’ve never seen any of them pull their face or turn around in frustration if the youngsters made mistakes.
They applaud effort, not results. They focus on learning, on guided discovery, not ‘answers’ and ‘instructions’.
They focus on creating an environment where experimentation is encouraged. They focus on teaching soccer IQ, a way of thinking about the essence of the game.
And here’s how this values based approach shows itself in more visible ways, through appearance, habits, and conduct:
- never be late – if you arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled time, you are late;
- shake hands when you arrive and when you leave – welcome each other;
- jerseys are always tucked in;
- uniforms, including bags and jackets, look neat and clean – no exceptions; you reflect yourself, your teammates, your team, your club, and ultimately your region and country (note that FC Barcelona first and foremost proudly represents Catalunya);
- laces are always tied properly;
- players line up and walk behind the coach;
- nobody talks when the coaches talk – you listen and can ask questions;
- apply what you are being taught to show that you want to learn;
- youngsters will watch other teams in between their own tourney games…
- …and they will sit quietly and pay attention, even to weak/boring teams;
The list goes on.
Now let’s get back to my opening question. Why do the FC Barcelona coaches teach the kids to line up in the semi-circle you see in the photo above?
For arguably the single most important value, listed first on this FC Barcelona website: respect. The two coaches taught the kids at my daughter’s summer camp that it is disrespectful to turn your back on your teammates.
Finally, let me comment on an aspect of these summer camps that often leads to misguided parental hopes and motivations.
Every summer the Barça coaches select one or two players from each camp to join a ‘Team USA’ for an international tournament in Barcelona.
A lot of parents I’ve met at these camps appear to be there in the hope that their son is going to be ‘discovered’ by FC Barcelona.
And after every camp there’s the inevitable complaining that x, y, and z youngster shouldn’t have been picked. My son or that other boy was a much better player! He scored many goals! And he was running so much more! He had more skills than that other player!
Well, let’s be clear that none of the youngsters attending these summer camps are being selected for a pro career at FC Barcelona.
The Barça coaches specifically tell the parents that they are not necessarily looking to just select the best soccer players. They are looking for that (relatively rare) combination of soccer ability and positive character. They are being selected because they clearly enjoy the beautiful game and reflect the Barça values.
It’s not about scouting the next Messi and it’s definitely not about encouraging that lone wolf player who might be the strongest and most competitive player and most skillful on the field, but rarely smiles and has no real interest in teamwork, humility, and the other players at camp.
I wish more clubs and coaches and parents would take these values more seriously.
There’s no magic, but you have to truly live and breathe them consistently, both the big picture and the details, every day.