[Viewpoint] The kids need to learn football is fun

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[Viewpoint] The kids need to learn football is fun

In June 2009, I had a chance to visit FC Barcelona, the most prestigious football club in the world. Just a month prior, FC Barcelona had won the 2008-09 UEFA Champions League against defending champion Manchester United 2-0.

The power of FC Barcelona comes from its solid youth football program. It stands in contrast to rival Real Madrid’s Galacticos, the policy of scouting expensive, famous football players from around the world.

The visit to La Masia - the youth academy for young players between the ages of 7 and 10 - was inspiring. The one-hour training session is all about playing the ball. By passing the ball with hands occasionally, the trainees learned game strategies and tactics. The boys were enjoying the training.

Coach Andreu Fontas, a former Barcelona defender, said, “What I emphasize the most is that the students should learn to enjoy the sport. If they are having fun, they will develop technique in no time.”

If the potential is acknowledged, the students enter an elite course from age 11. Only about 22 players make the cutoff for each age group, so the competition is very intense. However, they never forget the idea that football is a fun game.

The youth academy at FC Barcelona is operated based on strict unity. Josep Guardiola, manager of FC Barcelona, holds a monthly meeting of youth academy leaders and prescribes weekly and monthly training programs. The orders include detailed instruction on the formation, movement and direction of passes for the students to learn.

Miquel Puig, head of the FC Barcelona football school, said that other clubs prioritize physique and physical strength of the players but that FC Barcelona’s youth academy looks for only three traits: brains, technique and decision. Moreover, before teaching the techniques, the school focuses on character education to assure that the students keep Barcelona’s honor before teaching them football skills.

FC Barcelona is known for short, precise passes, and the players who master the art of football are trained starting in the youth academy. Most of FC Barcelona’s main players are La Masia alumni, including Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. FC Barcelona faced Manchester United in the Champions League final on Sunday, the second time in two years. Once again, Barca won the match and took home the European Cup.

As football fans around the world appreciated the beautiful play of FC Barcelona, Korean football fans had to watch the ugly reality of match-fixing scandals. Some professional football players were bought by dark money and got involved in criminal activity that denies the basic principles of professional sports.

Two young players killed themselves. Other players who took part in the match-fixing were arrested. Over 1,000 football players and officials gathered in Pyeongchang, Gangwon, and attended a workshop to end the corruption. They also took an oath to refrain from any unlawful game-fixing activities.

Why were these football players tempted by money so easily? They must have lost the fun of the sport. Because they were taught to win the game no matter what, they became insensitive to rules and regulations. They failed to build the character to distinguish right from wrong and to become healthy members of the community before pursuing their athletic careers. They shunned formal education and were made into a sports machine.

FC Barcelona’s art of football will soon be introduced in Korea. As the Asian partner of FC Barcelona, EMg Korea is collaborating with Daekyo, a local education service provider, to open the FCB Football Academy. The coaches at FC Barcelona will teach aspiring Korean footballers using their unique system.

Will the beautiful football of Barcelona be able to blossom in Korea as well? Will it produce another Lionel Messi in Korea? We all know the answer. The players should be able to find the pleasure of playing football, as it is the essence of sports itself.

“It would be great if my son has fun playing football and becomes a star like Lionel Messi. But if he gets to have a strong body and a cheerful character, I am more than happy,” said a football mom I met in Barcelona.

*The writer is the sports editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

By Jeong Yeong-jae
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