Sports have advantages and disadvantages, like everything else. The task of professionals and citizens is to reduce or eradicate the most negative effects while enhancing the most positive ones. One of the values of many sports like football is the opportunity for social learning that comes from moving from self-directed play to institutionalized play.

Playing with a ball is sometimes a self-directed game that children often engage in. They say they are playing football but do not follow its rules; for example, there may be no offside rule. Usually, as they get older, they understand the difference between this type of activity and institutionalized play. This means there are rules that they neither decided upon nor can individually change. They can come to understand that these are not arbitrary rules but the result of consensuses that even undergo some changes over time. They can also come to understand that certain organizations can establish other rules and specify them in the very title of the sport; for example, indoor football or educational football. In any case, they also understand that if they individually change the rules, they cannot deceive, for example, their students, by telling them that this is football.

It’s very relevant for children to learn and internalize those rules in their daily life, without the need for them to learn it in formal teaching. In the current dialogic society, dialogic teaching is increasingly developing many dimensions and variants. For instance, the overcoming of the reduction of human communication to speech acts by the studies on communicative acts is developing the analysis and consciousness about dialogic teaching beyond words. It is enough to observe children playing with the ball in a school playground to see how they teach each other the rules of football not only with speech acts but also with other kinds of communicative acts.

Sometimes, self-directed play is mistakenly called free play and receives all kinds of praise compared to sports where one must adhere to rules they did not decide upon. One of the mistakes of this conception is not considering that self-directed play also submits to socially agreed-upon rules that the participants did not decide on either; for example, the loser does not have the right to throw stones at the winner. Another mistake is considering self-directed play as more or less free than institutional play; there is the freedom to practice one or the other.

The learning of institutional play has very positive consequences for society and education. For example, dialogic literary gatherings have consensual rules, just like scientific criteria from which some variations can be proposed, but never individually decided upon. A teacher is free to decide to change these rules, but not to deceive the students, families, administration, and society by saying they are still dialogic literary gatherings; they have to call them something else.

[Image: Freepik]

Por Ramón Flecha

Catedrático Emérito de la Universidad de Barcelona. Investigador número 1 del ranking científico internacional Google Scholar en las categorías de "gender violence" y "social impact" (violencia de género e impacto social, respectivamente). Director de REVERS-ED.