During the 1980s Diego Maradona of Argentina was probably the best player in the world. Aside from arguably scoring the most amazing goal in World Cup history, the 1986 “Hand of God” goal is something that will forever live on in soccer lore. Maradona was capable of winning any game with unstoppable creativity seemingly at will. He was also known for his great intensity. The angrier he made himself the more intense and better he played.
During a World Cup qualifying game against Peru, the Peruvian coach found a way to potentially neutralize the incredible Maradona. Oddly, he chose a player that wasn’t nearly his best skilled defensive player to mark him. What the player had, though, was a funny personality. He was the funniest player on the Peruvian team. During the game, he told entertaining stories and jokes to Maradona. As predicted, Maradona played without his usual intensity. Peru pulled off the upset and won the game. This is an example of the power of emotional intelligence and more importantly, laughter.
Laughter Speeds Up The Learning Process
Why laugh? In an exercise sense, laughter increases endorphins and serotonin, which reduces stress, relaxes the body, and allows the enjoyment area of the brain to take over. As a result, the “thinking” part of the brain, the neocortex, increases its activity. This induces players to do and say things to keep the good feelings going. Laughter is infectious. It enhances learning and allows players and parents to laugh at themselves, reducing confrontations. It’s always harder for an opposing coach to beat a team that’s having fun.
Other studies have shown that strong emotions tied to teaching skills actually improve learning. Pianists that are faced with memorizing a difficult piece of music have been known to shock their bodies (and emotions) with a very cold shower and then attempting to play immediately after. The emotional (and physical) shock tied to learning actually increases comprehension. The strong emotions of laughter and joy have the same effect.
Players Don’t Join Teams To Just Win
In soccer, children win when coaches make the game as fun as possible. This keeps the game in perspective. Of course, a practice and a game is not always a laugh-fest, but a coach can set a great example to players by making sure the game is what it is, a game. A secret of a great coach is that he or she has an enthusiasm for the game and makes it fun for every player.
If any player is asked why they play a game their answer is always “to have fun.” “Winning” is not usually an answer that’s given as the first choice, according to many sports surveys. Winning is high on the list but it’s the excitement of competing that gets players to show up day after day. An effective coach learns what fun is for the kids and then tailors a learning regimen around it. Fun, laughter, and humor are second nature to children and a good coach can take advantage of this.
There are many fun or silly games or relay races that can create laughter. The idea is to break a practice up and do something out of the ordinary that takes a player’s mind off of routine soccer tasks and makes them remember why they joined a team in the first place which is to have fun.