A natural gift

by on Thursday, 29 May 2008 Comments
Just ask a Brazilian boy who are his idols. It will be difficult to find a boy who doesn’t include among them the name of one, two or three soccer players. In a country lacking historical references and with weak political figures, a sport that acclaimed Pelé worldwide as the greatest athlete of the twentieth century functions as a point of cultural union to a nation of almost 180 million people. Only the Portuguese language might exceed soccer as a factor of cultural identity. But is that enough to make Brazil the country of soccer?

The links between the Brazilian people and soccer is stronger than just offering some “heroic” figures. Especially for the children, the bounds are more practical. The ball is invariably the first toy a boy receives. Even without knowing any of the game’s rules, he very soon learns he can touch the ball with his feet or his head, never with the hands. Kids are only later introduced to other sports in which Brazil has achieved great success internationally, such as volleyball or basketball – which normally can happen at the beginning of adolescence. Until then, no matter the social class or the color of the skin, soccer is the main leisure activity, from playing a match amongst friends to supporting a beloved team, soccer is a passion inherited from generation to generation.

It is not difficult to find out why the Brazilian kids are so interested in soccer. It’s an easy game to play and there are several ways to organize a soccer match. Basically, everything a child needs to play soccer is a ball, which can virtually be made from anything - rubber, leather, socks or even a can of Coke. The rules will depend on the imagination of the group and the characteristics of the place where the match is held.

Everything is possible regarding the question of the floor of which the match takes place: lawn, sand, earth, asphalt, cement or wood. A real relief, since many people do not have a 100% horizontal ground. In the absence of a pair of goalposts to indicate the goals, small pieces of wood, sandals, cans or even trees can be used. As for the feet, since soccer shoes or sneakers are normally too expensive, only bare callused feet will handle the ball with care.

Limited space sometimes makes the invention of new “dribbles” (ways to escape with the ball from the adversary) a survival necessity for some Brazilian kids. Playing with a smaller ball, often deformed by use, stimulates the ability to control, the accuracy and the balance of the player. And the most important thing is that Brazilian children go through all this without compromise, without formalities. Since what matters to a child is to play, he doesn’t even notice he is acquiring abilities that teachers need years to develop in their students.

I’m sure that what mainly distinguishes Brazilian soccer styles from the rest is that it is treated as a great child’s game. Creativity and malice of our “craques”, that means of our greater players have been developed through the constant use of fertile imagination. An imagination capable of transforming a wasteland, two pairs of slippers, a ball made of socks and just four boys (two on each side) in an official match in the Maracanã stadium.

No one is born knowing how to play football. But the Brazilians have around them an environment so propitious that it makes this sport a real natural gift for them.

(Photo by Roberto Ribeiro)

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