Lessons from great footballing nations


I’m sat watching Germany play football.  They’ve just scored – as they often do.  What is it about certain countries, like Germany, that make them successful at football?  Germany have won the World Cup four times and the European Championship three times.  They have been a formidable force in world football for decades.  Similarly, Brazil have won the world cup a record five times. What is it about the ‘DNA’ of these countries that makes them so successful at football?  Are there parallels with successful schools?  Is there something about the ‘DNA’ of successful schools, that others can learn from?  I think the answer is probably yes.

A national obsession

Carlos Alberto Torres, captain of the Brazil football team that won the 1970 World Cup, says this about football in Brazil:

“Football in Brazil is like a religion.  Everybody talks about it all the time”

Former Brazil manager, Carlos Alberto Parreira, tries to explain why this is:

“Sociologists and psychologists have tried to explain, but nobody can find one reason. Maybe because we didn’t have to fight for independence, we don’t have earthquakes or things like that. We didn’t go to war.”

There are definitely some parallels her with schools.  Sir Tim Brighouse says this about successful schools:

“You know you are in a good school when:

  • Teachers TALK about teaching
  • Teachers OBSERVE each other teach
  • Teachers plan, organise and evaluate TOGETHER
  • Teachers teach each other”

So, successful schools create a culture where teachers talk about teaching  – a lot.  At Durrington, we try to do this by our weekly 15 minute forums, where teachers meet and talk about the successes they have had in their classrooms.  We also provide time during INSET days for subject teams to talk about teaching.  We also have ‘Journal Club’ and have had ‘EduBook Club’ where teachers meet and talk about teaching journals/books. Next year we are looking to take this a stage further.  Inspired by Katie Ashford’s post about how they do subject focused CPD at Michaela, we are looking to calendar regular ‘Subject Development & Planning’ sessions next year, where subject teams will meet up and talk about what they are teaching and how to do it well.  This is a really exciting development.

The quote from Carlos Alberto Parreira is an interesting one.  As schools become more successful, they are less under the gaze of OFSTED, local authorities and academy chain sponsors.  They’re not ‘at war’ or ‘fighting earthquakes’, so are free to talk about the things that really make a difference – quality teaching.  Schools need to be allowed to focus on the right things.  This takes strong leadership.  Leaders who are prepared to say “We are not going to do that, because this is what we need to focus on”.

A different game

In Brazil children learn football in a very different way from their European counterparts. There are no leagues or competitive matches for young children – such a concept is seen as likely to hinder a player’s creative impulses.

“The children play a lot but it’s always very free” says Leonardo, Brazillian World Cup Winner in 1994.

Parreira agrees with this:

“We don’t tell eight-year-olds you have to play right-back. We don’t put them in a cage, say ‘you have to be like this’. We give them some freedom until they are ready to be coached.”

How many teachers have had their teaching style stifled, by having to conform to a school imposed formulaic approach to teaching?  Think about the ‘3 part lesson’ or the ‘OFSTED outstanding lesson’.  Like many schools, we’ve moved away from this at Durrington.  We go for a ‘tight but loose’ approach to teaching, based around six principles.  Andy Tharby and I have also written about this in ‘Making every lesson count’.


Our approach to teaching is simple.  Evidence suggests that these principles contribute to effective teaching.  So do them well, in your classroom, in a way that suits you.  We will then provide a range of personalised CPD, to help teachers refine and practice these principles – to help them get better and better.  More on the CPD here.

perfect practice

In Brazil, young footballers play ‘futebol de salao,’ or hall soccer.  In this, 10 players face off on a small, indoor court. They also use a smaller ball that has roughly a quarter of the bounce that a regular soccer ball has. The result is that while youth soccer players elsewhere can succeed through strategies like long runs and may have only a dozen touches during a 40 minute match, in countries like Brazil where futebol de salao is extremely popular and played by every young player, those youths get many, many more touches and need to specialize in creative attacks and short, controlled passes to succeed.   They understand the need to focus on specific aspects of the game that will make them successful and practice this over and over again.

We need to support each other as teachers to do the same.  Identify a specific aspect of your teaching that you want to develop, look at ways in which you can develop it and then engage in deliberate practice to embed these improvements into your day to day teaching, until it becomes second nature.  If it’s working well, this is what appraisal should be supporting.  Chris Moyse does this brilliantly at his school.  More here.

To summarise

  • Talk about the stuff that matters (quality of teaching and student well-being) and ditch the stuff that doesn’t.
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to talk about teaching and share what works – within the context of their subject.
  • Adopt a ‘tight but loose’ approach to teaching – know what works but then give teachers the freedom to implement this in their classroom, in a way that suits them.
  • Support and encourage teachers to engage with ‘focused deliberate practice’ through your CPD programme.

The Germany v Ukraine game has just finished…Germany won 2-0.

Thierry Henry on why the Germans are so successful

They always think ‘we are going to win’, whatever.”

Successful, confident teachers think the same way.   School leaders, take note!

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4 Responses to Lessons from great footballing nations

  1. Pingback: Lessons from great footballing nations | David J Terrell

  2. David Rogers says:

    Like this Shaun very much, but would also say that Wales’ national passion is rugby, and yet we’ve never won the World Cup, so there needs to be something other than a positive mindset 🙂

  3. Pingback: Making every lesson count – how it came about, why it matters and how we do it | Class Teaching

  4. Pingback: Making Every Lesson count | Kesgrave High School

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