Football fandom helps highlight the science of successful learning.

Tougher Minds Head of Education, Andrew Foster, suggests that some school pupils’ vast knowledge of English football shows everybody has the potential for successful learning.

“There is a phenomenon that needs to be paid far more attention by teachers.

Vast numbers of young people that have variable degrees of success learning at school, to put it charitably, are compiling encyclopaedic levels of knowledge of their own accord. The detail they accrue, the passion and sophistication of their arguments, if applied to their GCSE subjects, could only result in A* grades. Unfortunately as yet, none of the examination boards offer qualifications in Premier League Studies.

Whether we as teachers like it or not, football is hugely important to many of our pupils and we can draw some significant insights from both their interaction with it and the way the game itself operates.

My first point is that we should not confuse failure to learn with inability to learn. The seemingly feckless pupil that has just a few words of French to show for five years of study will often be able to recall and pronounce impeccably thousands of names from a hundred or more countries of the world. The brain is designed to learn, but only those things to which it pays attention. If the supposed “dead loss” has somehow acquired vast knowledge of another topic, why not modify our teaching to tap into this potential?

Soccer’s transfer deadline day has entered the calendar to such an extent it is only a matter of time before Hallmark and Clintons try to cash in. But the frenetic nature of the market in footballers also underlines how many believe that talent is innate and immutable. If someone has not been able to achieve elite performance levels thus far then they must and always will be incapable.

The science tells us that this is not the case. Purposeful practice and the deliberate formation of helpful habits can have a huge impact on our ability to perform. Lee Sharpe, formerly of Manchester United, Leeds United and Bradford City (sadly for Lee, in that order) tells, what I take to be from his perspective, an amusing tale of coming across Gary Neville practising seemingly endless throw-ins having made a hash of one in a training match.

It is not coincidence that Neville, never regarded as an exceptional talent when a junior, has embarked on a successful second career as a pundit, all the while in possession of one of the greatest medal collections in football history. Sharpe’s approach took him all the way to Celebrity Love Island.

Womens’ football offers further role models. Claire Rafferty, a former pupil of Colfe’s School shows success can be won on multiple fronts – Chelsea, England and Deutsche Bank. How are there enough hours in the day? By recognising that we are prone not to use them very effectively and that with better habits of focus, finite time can be spent so much more productively; hence seeming impossibilities like Rafferty’s achievements can become reality.

Tougher Minds understands the principles underpinning these observations.

We appreciate both the good and the bad that can be drawn both from neuroscience and observation of human behaviour, and we have developed programmes that help people, young and old, understand themselves and their brains. Once we have that understanding, we can start to deliberately develop better habits for learning and performance, health and happiness.

Enjoy the new football season, but keep at least half an eye on what it tells us about what we can do to help ourselves and those around us progress and flourish in our own lives.”

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