Craig Foster’s recent analysis of Spanish footballing success is likely to resound with many educators. 

Spain are a wonderful example to Australia because the fruits they enjoy today were cultivated over the last 20 years through an advanced youth development system, by churning out thousands of qualified coaches to educate young players and through the progressive work of Barcelona, whose players are maestros of the field.

The point is, it was not always thus. Spain used to play a much more physical game, with little success, and only through sound planning, good footballing minds and consistent work over two decades, do they now stand at the top of the FIFA ladder.

We are just beginning our own journey of change and Spain have shown it can be done.                                                

SOURCE: Sydney Morning Herald

Foster went further last night, on SBS, imploring Australians to think more deeply about ‘The Beautiful Game’. His point, that the Spanish saw the game differently, was heartfelt. Skill development is essential but it is the vision, attitude and sophistication that will take it all to the next level, is his belief. This will only be achieved if each of the ‘levels’ a player progresses through – from Under 6’s to the World Cup – there is a good understanding of what ‘the game’ can be about.

This brings me to education.

Recently I have joined a growing number of learning professionals who have read and been greatly impressed by the intellectual honesty of Diane Ravitch’s excellent new book. She, like Foster does so passionately with football, asks a fundamentally important question:

WHAT, THEN, CAN WE DO, to improve school and education? Plenty.

If we want to improve education, we must first of all have a vision for what a good education is. We should have goals that are all worth striving for. Everyone involved in educating children should ask themselves why we educate. What is a well-educated person?

Ravitch makes the point:

The fundamentals of a good education are to be found in the classroom, the home, the community, and the culture, but reformers in our time are looking for quick answers. Untethered to any philosophy of education, our current reforms will disappoint us, as others have in the past…

In a time of rapid change we definitely need a vision that does not have exclusively, at its heart, as Ravitch points out, “the unrelenting focus on data that has become commonplace in recent years {which} is distorting the nature and quality of education…”

Foster, in another article, makes a number of interesting assertions about the process of conducting a ‘post-mortem’ into what went wrong with Australia’s recent World Cup bid. Here’s some excerpts:

Australian football must continually benchmark itself against the best and develop a culture of constant improvement.

And there are many lessons to come out of this World Cup that should be institutionalised and shared throughout the game.

But the first issue is the process for analysing the tournament and whether this is being handled correctly, and whether the administrators still trying to learn about football at FFA are capable of opening the doors to Australian experts at a critical time for our game.

This is principally because those who manage elite programs at the FFA have no understanding of football and, as such, are an easy touch for the Dutch coaches, who are selling to the uninitiated…

Spain, Argentina and Germany are all playing far more advanced football, the type we need to assess and integrate into our curriculum.

These three countries are evolving…

Australian education should use international experience, data and research to improve what we do. Which countries are evolving? We should be wary of the kind of failed business models that Sir Ken Robinson warns about so passionately and are detailed in Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins:

We must reject the idea—well-intentioned, but dead wrong—that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses—like most of anything else in life—fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great. When you compare great companies with good ones, many widely practiced business norms turn out to correlate with mediocrity, not greatness. So, then, why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors?

So, do some people disagree with Foster’s analysis of what direction Australian football should take? I guess they do but in education, it seems quite obvious that we need to focus on evolving much more personalised learning for students that is not a linear, lock-step factory model suited to another age. We need to maintain and develop our civil society while ensuring Australians are able to successfully manage the environment and the economy. Innovation, creativity and resilience are already essential and will only become more so as populations boom and resources grow scarcer.

Like Foster’s belief in a coherent coaching system, at all levels, Australia is attempting to devise a national approach to education. The question, are our current plans for an Australian Curriculum driven by the collection of certain kinds of data coherent with what we know about educational success in other countries? Is the reform experience in the USA, that Ravitch details, and Sir Ken Robinson rues from the UK, ones we wish to repeat here? What can be learned from high performing countries like Finland, who so recently made impressive social justice policy about access to high speed broadband. What place social justice in our country? To what extent have our policy decisions resulted in this kind of analysis being justified?

There is much to think about; much of it not suited to the electoral cycle of politicians.

I leave the last word to Foster, who impresses me greatly:

The stakes are too important to be left to chance…

Thanks to Cliff Cheng LF


  1. Nice header ,D …

    When I started coaching juniors, my mentor, senior coach, walked up to me and said: Do you know what an important job you have? Do you know what your job is actually?

    I started: Of course, I need to teach the kids how to pass properly, how to position their legs to shoot, how to do individual then group defence …

    He cut me off abruptly: No, no, no, no … Your job, THE most important job is to help these kids fall in in love with the game. Everything else will follow.

    This was in former Yugoslavia, a country which in its may incarnations over the past decades has won buckets of medals and cups at the highest club and national team levels and which has been renowned for its outstandingly ‘educated’ players from the youngest age onwards.

    I suppose some parallels (sport/education) can be made, yes. But beware seeing education as gladiatorial as sport where there is a clear-cut winner and loser, a rank and cup to chase at the end of the day. Frankly, I see schools these days a lot more gladiatorial than sports (even), partly (agreed) as it is run by bureacrats (the white coat replicability – if it works there, it will work anywhere).

    To use football parlance, I don’t want our kids to play The Beautiful Game the way the kids in Spain, Germany or Agrentina do or somehow yearn to ”have what they have”. They NEVER will, that stuff is a fabric of eg Spanish society. But we can sure develop something that works and is developed locally, something we are proud of and something no dodgy business model can actually destroy.

    We just need to work out what exactly the Beautiful Game (Education) is … indeed, then watch it grown and change all the time. Then share it with the world to see what the world makes of it.


      • Darcy Moore

      • 14 years ago


      Bingo! You hit the proverbial on the head with: “THE most important job is to help these kids fall in in love with the game. Everything else will follow…”

      I appreciate the poignancy of your anecdote in continuing my football analogy so powerfully – thank you.

      Darcy :0)

    • Troy

    • 14 years ago

    I’ve been thinking about this post since I read it late last night.

    The connections between sport and education are, for me, very clear. Organisation, forward planning, modelling. I do see a direct link when we change sports, say, from football to cricket. Other countries want to copy our systems, our structure.
    Our organisation, our forward planning, our model. Why can’t this happen in education? Why refer to US or British developments? Why not cast our nets wider: Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark.
    But when I change the sports, I come to your point about social justice. The cricket club, much like the clubs that are established in education systems, from faculties, within executives, with regional staff, with the state, is exclusive, sometimes, based on exclusion. That is why I giggle when I hear a return to the ‘good olde days’ or ‘back to basics’, some sentimental time that saw education exclude groups and individuals based upon gender, cultural heritage or some perceived social class.

    I think of social justice and education as working from each other, the defence and the forwards. And when I think of my class working together in small groups, altering their own written work, taking charge of their plays or their interviews with poets long dead. I picture the tireless midfielders, and those same students emailing each other with ideas and suggestions before posting to a site that makes the task a part of the real world, and then I read their feedback on other students hard work. I also hear my, um, supervisior, saying, ‘but they don’t do that in NAPLAN, or those skills are not going to be assessed’.

    I concur, Tomaz: ‘No, no, no, no … Your job, THE most important job is to help these kids fall in in love with the game. Everything else will follow.’ That’s why I love teaching year 7, that’s why I think what teachers and ‘The System’ does in those early years are vital…

      • Darcy Moore

      • 14 years ago

      Bravo Troy!

      I am starting to think that some very high profile studies and books, about what works in schools, need to be retitled, what ‘used to work’ in schools. The ballgame is so changed. Recently, when thinking about Yr 11 and imagining spending most of every day in class, without access to a computer or the internet, I could have cried. We really need to rethink assessment and reporting that drives the curriculum, especially the HSC. Barry McGaw
      said some good things last year but one is not overly encouraged at the moment.

      I must say, I really miss teaching Year 7…the last time I had this young a class was about 2005.

      Maybe in 2011.

    • Darcy Moore

    • 14 years ago

    Craig Foster has written another article, Five tips to boost Australian football and one wonders, with Education policy, if we are in danger of not ‘playing true’ to our egalitarian culture.

    I particularly like number 5.

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