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Transcript: The Culture of Youth Development (EP10)

 

Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.

  

Brendan Rogers: Hello, everybody. I’m Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. And this is Episode 10. And today, I’m speaking with Joey Peters.

Joey is a Matildas legend who coincidentally wore the #10 shirt. She’s the fifth most capped Matilda of all time having represented the national Team 110 times between 1996 and 2009 scoring 28 goals. Joey played in FIFA Women’s World Cups in 1999, 2003 and 2007. She was an Olympian at the 2004 Athens games. She’s an Asian Cup finalist and has played in professional football leagues all over the world from the USA to Brazil and Sweden. Joey was the winner of the Julie Dolan Medal in 2002/2003 women’s NSL or National League Season, and was inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame in 2010.

Joey’s a mum. She’s a media football commentator and analyst. And after retiring from playing professional football in 2009, Joey has continued her passion for football in the coaching space with experience from grassroots right through to the professional levels. Joey has now developed her own coaching methodology called GAME PLAY LEARN which hides learning in fun and provides dynamic, motivating learning environments aimed at inspiring and nurturing players.

The focus of our chat today is the culture of youth development.

Joey, thank you for joining me. It’s such an honour to have you as a guest on The Culture of Things podcast.    

Joey Peters: Well, thanks so much, Brendan. What a kind introduction there. 

Brendan Rogers: Well, look, Joey, thank you for raising that. And when I was putting that together and reading it, I’m thinking, wow, there’s so much you’ve achieved and so much you’ve done. Can you just, just for me and the listeners out there, so that they could get some perspective that you’re a real person, what do you suck at? 

Joey Peters: (Laughing) There’s plenty. Let me tell you. Although I probably could get my teenage daughters particularly to tell you what I suck at because they’re my humbling ground level as they are. I’m actually not good at multitasking to be honest. You know, I kind of missed out on that natural woman trait, I think. I find it difficult. There’s plenty. Gee, I’ll have to get you a list, Brendan, because there’s certainly a lot.

Brendan Rogers: Maybe we can talk about that in another episode. But like any humble leader, you know, you’re able to share that. And that’s fantastic. So look, I just want it to level the playing field a bit and know that we are talking to an everyday human here. So Joey, this journey you’ve had, unbelievable, as I said, those accolades, absolutely fantastic. Just give us a bit of perspective on how this journey has shaped you over your time through professional football and to where you are today.

Joey Peters: It’s interesting. When reflecting on my journey, I feel like if I could put it into a couple of words, it was in a sporting sense, and also, such will be a lost sense. It’s moved, it’s in moving from performance to participation. So, we talk a bit about that in the sporting realm, performance being all about winning and results and participation, being more about the joy of the journey. And I would see that is really sums me up, how it shaped me. You know, from when I was a young girl, I just had such a drive to compete, to want to win, which, you know, actually came from the backyard with my brother. But also, just looking at how my family, the family culture there, it was, we strive a lot to succeed and perform and get really good results. And that has carried me probably to where I was, but it also had its cost as well.

You know, I found it very, very difficult when I retired from the professional playing and I wanted to go straight into coaching and had a bit of a dabble early on in the elite space with coaching. But I essentially burnt out. I experienced mental illness and just the real grieving of my identity when I retired. But that actually helped then give me a shift and more of appreciation for what I call, just being a participant, you know, whether it’s in life, but particularly sport. And when you’re a participant, you’re just there to enjoy the experience with others. And you start thinking more about, you know, the social connections that you make and you start valuing that a lot more. You start finding out a bit more about yourself and things like creative expression, which I really valued all my life as well. So, you know, I guess if I could sum it up, it’d be that I’ve really now I feel so much better in myself now. This is 10 years on since retiring and the more I, the more distance and the more I keep this, well, it’s not that I’ve kept this focused, it’s just how I’ve changed really. It’s more about the fun, the joy of sport, but also of life, of relationship and letting go somewhat of the pressures that can come with being results-focused. 

Brendan Rogers: That journey you’d describe, it seems to me to be a reasonably common journey. I mean, again, there’s specific elements to that that will not be common, but just that hardship, I guess you could sum it up as retiring from elite football or elite sport, having those pressures, having that regimented process and environment around you all the time and then that transition. Can you just tell us a bit about that and how real, how common is that in professional sport?

Joey Peters: Well, it’s very common, the outcome focused, I mean, we’re always trying to look for a tick box, you know. How can we measure something? How can we analyse something with numbers? And I think it’s not just sport, but I think the education system and probably business as well, influences that highly, we want to measure things and we have this obsession with controlling things. So, being able to control the outcomes, so we do A + B = C, or would it be, you know, the equation we’re trying to work out. But what I love about sport is that it doesn’t let us get away with that. We are continuing, I guess, that’s, that might be almost the Holy Grail of why we’re continuing this passion and this drive in sport to, you know, to achieve, to have long-term success. It’s very, very difficult, especially when we’re looking at those outcomes first.

And we feel like we can, we have control of the outcomes. For me, it’s more about that journey because, and it brings in this sense of complexity and I’ve enjoyed researching the science of complexity and it’s that sense of, you know, what we can’t control. And it comes back to, we cannot control the end result in a game if people are still trying to control it. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s what I say. Sometimes the ball hits the crossbar, sometimes it goes in. There’s a lot of factors that we can’t control, but we seem to still have such an obsession to think that to live and die by the results. Ahh, that team lost so that means that the coach must be doing a bad job. And you know, that becomes a focus. Whereas, again, I’m trying to shift it more from the score line to the experience.

You can learn so much more about the interactions within the game than the score line. And perhaps that’s why, where it comes from when people say, “Well, you don’t lose you either, you know, you learn and you learn more through losing if you like, because you don’t have that final result to rest on”. You have to go digging and looking for other reasons as to why that was a good experience. So, you know, I think we’ll continually be wrapped up in the performance and winning world cups and being the world’s best ‘til we die. I think that’s unfortunate because we’re really missing out on so much more than just the outcome. 

Brendan Rogers: Since I first met you back in 2012, I think it was. And there’s one word that has always summed it up for me. If somebody said, “Oh, what’s Joey Peters like?” And I would just say, “Passionate”. I hear that in your voice today, I knew that would come through.

What’s driving Joey Peters over this journey and to where you are today with GAME PLAY LEARN?  

Joey Peters: I’ve always been a questioner Brendan and I love that the quote from Einstein, you know. “Above all else is question everything”. And it’s just driven me to this curiosity. And I think the passion for me is that we just seem to settle so much in life. You know, we settle for assumptions. There’s so many assumptions that I can’t even think of a good example right now. ‘Cause everywhere I go, it’s, we’re assuming things. And I just want to say let’s question, I mean, perhaps take COVID for example. This sense of, do we want to go back to normal or do we take this time to actually question our lifestyle, question our cultures, questioning what we’re doing to the environment, questioning how we’re living every day, why we leave our house and go traveling an hour to sit in an office, you know, rather than spending, aiming to spend that time with family?

I feel like that’s been a wonderful, there’s so many opportunities that’s presented to us that I feel like passersby. And I guess that’s where the passion comes from, but I just feel like we can make the world a better place. And so, I do get myself into a lot of trouble with people because perhaps, my tone isn’t as calm and can be quite confrontational. I’ve been said in the past and argumentative. You know, I’m quite happy to be that person that puts up my hand, “So why, why are we doing this? Why did you say that you want to do this?” And I guess now, I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve had a lot of experience. So, the passion is only growing because I’m finding out so many things. I’m a lifelong learner. I learn every day.

And I don’t understand people that are just satisfied with doing the same thing, jumping on the treadmill every day. So, I guess I’m one to be able to, you know, ruffle the feathers and it comes with a down side because you can offend people, but I’m willing to take that cost at the opportunities that present us to be better to people, individuals to nurture our potential. But now, I think, perhaps as I talk, my passion is now towards the next generation and being a mom is very much the influence, you know, how can we help and nurture our generation that’s growing up in this social media obsession, these mental illness disorders, a life that is so structured? There’s no time, we’re all busy. There’s plenty of problems in the world to fix, Brendan. And that’s why, you know, I guess I wake up in the morning and I’m particularly, you know, finding good energy at the moment with this COVID, I can’t help, but say, because it’s giving us that opportunity to change. 

Brendan Rogers: Let’s go into the GAME PLAY LEARN process and the methodology and the community that you’re building over recent times. What’s the background of that? Tell us a bit about GAME PLAY LEARN. And how is that curiosity driving you to help the culture of youth development and improving the culture of youth development? 

Joey Peters: Talk about passion, every time someone mentions GAME PLAY LEARN, I just get this excitement because first and foremost, because it’s bigger than me. I’ve been the one probably driving it since it started. And it did start as a collaboration between people. And that’s what I think was the initial energy behind it. There was a group of us who were in this project of this new football school. That’s actually where I met you, Brendan. You know, there was this new project we could wipe the slate clean with, what would you do if you had kids every day that you could do sport with basically, or in our case, football, but it quickly moved to sport because when you have kids every day, if you do the same thing every day, it becomes quite mundane and you start finding problems with burnout and your injuries and what have you.

But anyway, we had this clean slate with the reference of the Football National Curriculum. We wanted to respect that, but we also wanted to just bring the experiences and the backgrounds of those that we were working with. And if I can mention names, I think it’s OK. André Gumprecht from Germany, I call him the German genius. You know, he told us what he’d been doing in East Germany as a child and his wonderful journey. You know, he had Bradley Porter. who was a local, you know, a great Australian player who grew up in our AIS system, which is getting a lot of air time at the moment. Patrick Zwaanswijk came along. He has his own, perhaps a little bit different in his methodologies, but it was this diversity, then I can’t miss out on Matthew O’Neill. This guy is just amazing. I don’t quite know where to start with Matthew O’Neill. He’s just this ultimate creative guy who’s living on the edge. And so, with this collaboration, we started researching and that might sound like, “Oh yeah, you do that.” But that’s actually different for sport and football coaches. It can be very, very insular. So, just by adding diversity, researching, we stumbled across a guy called Marco Sullivan. And there were others in that space as well. We were looking beyond just football, actually looking into child development, looking into human behaviour, looking at the science, as I’ve mentioned, complexity, this science that was fascinating called Ecological Dynamics, which can get crazy as well. But if you think of the basic science of ecology, it’s the relationship between each other and the environment. And so this thing of relationships came to be at the heart of what we articulated as GAME PLAY LEARN. And then, I said, “Look, guys. I’m going to start a website. I’m going to start blogging. I’m going to start putting all these ideas down.”

And then, I started looking into, you know, what people were doing online. And it became a place to be able to collaborate with people around the world because it was started. Because it was quite a minority that was thinking this way, you know, different to the winning outcomes, train kids from when they’re early, pick the best with the best, you know. ‘Cause we could see, that’s not working and that’s not healthy for kids. And it wasn’t family-friendly. It was just creating too much pressure. We’d had our own experiences of the pressure. Like I said, I burnout and this obsession with coaching, surely there’s gotta be a better way as I set a question. So, it began through collaboration. It’s now evolved probably formally. I’ve had the website going since 2016. So four years. I’ve taken it probably on my own a lot with it.

But at the same time, I’m still connecting with those relationships. Relationships, being at the key, and it’s just evolving, just giving it some freedom to breath. I’ve been experimenting with this research, you know, doing different things with kids outside the organised formal context. So, my first little adventure was to put on a Futsal competition. I put the word competition just to attract people. But really, it was just playing games. This GAME PLAY LEARN. There’s so much to it, but you could perhaps say, the basis of it is learning through playing games or learning through play. And then again, there’s research about play and how we’ve lost the art of play and our history of kids now not getting the opportunity to play and have that time to explore. And we’re just putting them straight into structured environments. And that brought in this fun element. So, we’ve lost fun and kids are dropping out of sport.

And this sense of we’re losing retention now, and kids are telling us, it’s because it’s not fun. They get to their teen years and say, “I’ve been through this system long enough. I’m over it. It’s not fun anymore, guys.” And we know that it’s not the game that’s not fun. It’s actually us adults, and the ones running it that are stuffing it up for the kids. So then, it took me to this child-centred approach where we actually stopped asking kids, what would you like to do? That’s the opposite of the coaching culture? Because the coach is set themselves, you know, we set ourselves up as the expert, we’ve done all this formal education where, “I’ve got my, this license and that license. So, I need to tell you what to do. And I need to organise this session for everyone.” But you can see, there’s so many elements that are tying in now.

And of course, like I said, it comes back to moving from this performance mindset, treating kids like players, like mini adults from performance to participation, enjoying the journey, letting kids be kids, letting them have fun and growing that passion for the game to actually playing the game. Let’s not complicate it, guys. Let’s actually start with the game and start with play. “What would you like to do, kids?” “Oh, we want to play duck-duck-goose.” “Okay, well, let’s play duck-duck-goose” and actually valuing other factors other than performance, other than getting just football skills. We’re facilitating life skills here. We’re setting up environments that are exploratory and creative. And I think that was the other thing too. It’s a facilitative approach. So, we’re not coaches. We actually facilitate. And that’s where it extends across context. So, it’s not just for sport and it’s not necessarily just for kids. It’s actually challenging us as leaders. When we are leading a group of people, are we telling them what to do? Are we starting with that point or are we actually going to them and saying, what are your needs? What would you like to do? Because from that point of view, then we start actually nurturing and we start maximising the potential of each individual.

Brendan Rogers: I love the terminology used around the child-centred approach. And we’ve spoken about this before and the facilitation mindset versus that coach and the, I guess the tell-do and having control.

What are the barriers that you’ve come up against in this fantastic philosophy? And again, you’ve experienced both, you know, you’re living and breathing this GAME PLAY LEARN and child-centred approach, but you, you know, you grew up in a different environment. So, what are the challenges that people have in taking on this philosophy and the conversations you’ve had with coaches around this, why don’t some get it, what’s the barrier to them taking this on board?

Joey Peters: That’s a great question, Brendan. Because I’ve had plenty. And like I said, this is a minority that believes first off in the value of learning through play, that play is not only valuable for self and social aspects, but it actually brings a powerful learning element, which people, I guess, if you can think of the school and the school playground, vs the classroom. People think, well, you learn everything in the classroom. And then you go out to the playground for the break.

Well, my belief would actually be. I would value, yeah. I would value them playing in the playground experience more than the classroom. There’s all the reasons that come behind that. But people initially find that very difficult to believe because we’ve been indoctrinated or our society and culture is very driven towards, well, you learn by someone telling you what to do as opposed to being able to discover it for yourself?

That’s a big barrier to start off with, again, that assumption, of what learning actually is and what teaching is, that sense that you need to be taught by someone what to do. And that certainly comes into it. I don’t want to dismiss that at all, but I do, I do feel the need and I am someone that goes to the other extreme to explore to perhaps then come back and find, you know, a balance between the two, because there are some tasks, mundane tasks that you, this is how you do it and it just helps. For time’s sake, do it quickly. I’m just going to show you real quick so that we can get on with it. No worries at all. But when we’re talking about raising a child, when we’re talking about, you know, development, which is a long-term journey, that’s when we need to give value for time.

And that’s where people are strapped for time. And they’re actually looking for shortcuts. We’re looking to get more efficient. We want a shortcut that way. So, that’s a barrier. People aren’t willing to put the time in that we need to give, to create these environments, but also the time to give to our group that we’re working with. “We don’t have much time, guys. We’re going to have to do this, this and this today.” Imagine if we had time, which is what we found with this environment, we had plenty of time. That then gives us that opportunity to say, “Okay, what do you guys want to do?” “We’ve got a bit of time to chat about this now and to collaborate.” Another challenge would be, and this is coming from a former professional players standpoint. As we value expertise, so, you know, people could, “You know, I could say I was a former Matilda, actually, I was one of the best Matilda’s or whatever. All I did was really good so you should actually listen to me because, and you should do what I did.” And that’s where we put ourselves as the experts.

Again, I think that’s a bad assumption to make and it’s a barrier for those that have actually achieved a lot, I feel like it can be a big strength. And I feel like it is a big strength of mine that I’ve experienced, but it can also be a huge weakness because then, you’re relying on your own experience. You don’t actually value research and experimenting as much. You don’t value the person in front of you. And in fact, that they are the expert of their own life. So, there’s a barrier there when we want to set ourselves up as experts to then thinking, “Well, actually I’m just going to facilitate, which means I might just actually be in the background or actually even more so, from a coaching perspective”, which can be very, a big hit on the ego and “kids don’t need me.”

I could actually go and leave and the kids would do quite well. And again, it’s that sense of the playground. Teachers are there just to supervise. The kids do quite well at making up their own game, changing the rules, collaborating, problem solving. That’s the big hit to the ego. I’ll add one more. Is this again, this performance mentality that I want to win, so to win you, again, it cuts out that development sense in giving it a long term journey. If you want to win, it’s usually short term. So, that’s when we see the examples of the coaches standing on the sideline in the professional leagues or national teams. They’re trying to fix problems very, very quickly, so they’re telling players what to do. We need to solve this very quickly. As opposed to if you had a longer term approach and you feel like actually, if I can give these guys time to work it out themselves a little bit, then we’re going to see long term, sustainable benefits, long term wins.

And in fact, you know, there’s so many people now that value if we focus on learning more, then eventually we’re gonna win anyway or if we focus on having happier people, then they’re going to be better performers. So, for me, it’s a win-win, but yeah, the barriers are certainly there. I’ve come up with a lot. And then probably, the last thing I’d say is tradition. People just want to do what they always want to do. Change is scary. That’s why I’m trying to actually introduce experiments and say the word experiment, because I’m not sure what you think, Brendan, but experiments can be fun. It can be a little bit safer than saying, “Oh, we’re changing something.” ‘Cause change seems, definite. So, that’s helping people to, you know, dip their toe in the water. “It’s not that scary, guys. And actually, it’s fun. And actually, we’re going to get longer term sustainable happiness and a lot of wins.”

Brendan Rogers: Once again, so many great points. I think a couple that I want to point out is you didn’t use the word humility. You use the word ego. Humility is such a key thing in this child-centred approach and facilitating and not feeling like as the coach, you need to be the centre of attention. The other thing, I really think again, that curiosity, that experimentation is critical. Again, that requires a level of humility to say, “Hey, you know what? We’re going to try something.” And the thing that I contrast this in my own business environment, to what you’re saying exactly that happens in the youth culture and sporting environment is, those short-term decisions happen in business as well. Leaders make short-term decisions because you know, they need to hit a target. Like you said, we’ve got targets, we’ve got tick boxes, we’ve got KPIs and they’re not making decisions for the long term. And quite often, those short-term decisions actually have a really bad impact long-term.

What I’d like you to, just, also touch on for our listeners. ‘Cause again, there’s a bit of football talk in there, but you mentioned earlier around specialisation versus non-specialisation. And I think that’s really important for you to just explain what that is given, actually specialisation is such a foundation in, I think all sports of youth development so can you explain that a little bit for us?

Joey Peters: Yeah. Look, early specialisation, it’s a big thing now. It’s this sense of getting kids as early as possible. And we look at some examples like Tiger Woods, who were these child prodigies, who, as soon as he could walk, had a golf stick in his hand. And this sense that, you know, the earlier we can do something, it’s also mixed with a myth and I’ll call it a myth because they’ve been the author of the book that mentioned the 10,000 hour rule in terms of, you know, you need a certain amount of hours to master something and you know what, again, the assumption is we take that as that’s true and it’s half true, isn’t it? It does take a long time to be able to master something. And that’s, I think what people are chasing in terms of specialisation. Spend as much time as you can on one particular thing and you will get better at it and you will then be able to hopefully move on to the upper echelons of being the best at it.

The opposite to that would be the sense of, for me, it’s diversity. People also call it generalism. In sport, we can call it multi-sport. But so, for me, it’s the value of diversity. So, if you’re going to specialise in something, you’re going to do something, you know, every day to get better at it, then there becomes the cost. As I mentioned before, you know, you have burnout. The sense of too much of a good thing ain’t a good thing. That sense that we’re specialising, means it comes at a great cost and we don’t look at the cost as well to what that means by spending all those hours on that one particular thing. And that brings in life balance as well. So, this sense of diversity. Have many things, try many different things, and eventually, you’ll be able to, in a kid’s development sense, give them plenty of things to try.

Eventually, they’ll work out what they love. You know, how unfortunate if we put a golf stick, you know, in Tiger Woods’ hand and he never had the opportunity to see, maybe he might’ve liked cars or ball games or music, but even if he was given those opportunities to have a more fuller experience of life. And that’s what I love about diversity, it’s a full experience. And I think it’s becoming a little bit more well-known that diversity and learning is valuable. I think we need to push it even more so, especially because this specialisation is happening. The other benefit of this diverse, and some people call it a sampling approach or being general, is actually that we can develop. Some people call it skill acquisition. I’m actually more enjoying the term skill adaptation. That sense, if we can adapt the skills across, whether it’s across contexts or across sports, you know, that sense of adapting to the environment, that is actually where skill comes from. So, the sense of having a more diverse and varying experience, rather than specialising, you’re actually going to develop quicker, the ability to be skilful in the moment of whatever context it is. Again, so we often dismiss that, “Oh, we need to practice more and more and more and more of the same thing.” Actually, no. The varying experiences can actually improve performance as well.  

Brendan Rogers: It’s fair to say that you’ve had enormous influence on the field with Australian football and particularly, women’s football. And I think that influence now is starting to spread into the, using your words, that upper echelon of football society. And, because you’ve recently been appointed as one of the FFA ‘Starting XI’, which is a new initiative by the FFA. A fantastic initiative. I was looking at that in some of the research when we were, you know, when I was preparing for this and you know, the likes of Mark Viduka, and Josip Skoko and Mark Bosnich, Frank Farina, there’s Heather Garriock, there’s Claire Polkinghorne, Vicki Linton, yourself. I mean, some fantastic names of Australian football, both women’s and men’s football. So, I have to say that to me, says your influence is growing in what you’re doing and your beliefs and how you’re starting to make an impact. What I’d love to know from you though is first of all, what is this FFA ‘Starting XI’, you know, for you and how has this been put to you and how can you make an impact in that team?  

Joey Peters: Yes, first off, I do feel very privileged to be in that group because I know that there’s plenty of others that could very well be in that group. And it was a huge encouragement to me because I did feel like I’d been shut out of the game somewhat. I put my feelers out there and because perhaps, through GAME PLAY LEARN, it wasn’t seen to be specialised in football. You know, I didn’t feel like I, was really saddened that my own country and my own sport didn’t see the value in what I was bringing. So, to be recognised, you know, I do know that there were a few people that understood, they perhaps didn’t understand to what extent I’d been doing research and that I’ve actually been right out there on the edge, but they certainly valued my past and also what I’m doing at the moment in terms of the grassroots space.

So, trying to connect with clubs, local coaches, to equip them, you know, essentially in trying to make it easier for them, which I feel like GAME PLAY LEARN does, and then make a better experience for everyone, an inclusive approach from, you know, from beginners to experienced players. So, I do feel like that was a huge boost to me. And it has been a huge boost to then increase those connections with people saying, “Oh, Joey.” And then, they know that I’m batting for grassroots in there. Because it’s been interesting, we’ve had our first meeting recently and there was about 20 to 30 of us, including obviously the ‘Starting XI’, national team coaches and the senior management team. Most interesting thing for me was it was still very performance-driven. I was quick to kind of go, “Hey guys, appreciate that we all want to win a World Cup. We want to be the world’s best.” You know, there’s performance gaps. But you know, one little weakness that I saw was the lack of diversity in relation to, you know, we’re all from that 1% that have made it. And so, I’m advocating for the 99 out there that what is their experience. That provides in itself, for me, is going to be a long term discussion to try and get people perhaps, to see from that performance perspective, how crucial that participation is. I’m not saying that they don’t value it, but it was interesting that, you know, the first meeting that we had was based around performance aims, but also, you know, there was encouragement there that the FFA have realised, you know, they’ve been through a tough, they’ve been through the wringer. They’ve realised that they need a new, they call it the New FFA, you know, something that we can be proud of as a sport, as a country, you know, everyone can enjoy this game.

Everyone has the best of intentions at heart. It is a two-year journey apparently with, you know, this Starting XI’. They’ve said that. So, it’s only at the beginning, I am hoping to focus and bring the grassroots to, it will be, it will continue to be my primary focus. And from that, because I believe if we focus on the participation needs of the individual’s experience of it being family-friendly, then we will see greater performance outcomes. I’m really enjoying just seeing the inside of such an organisation like the FFA because of the turmoil they’ve been through, because they’re trying to desire to do the right thing. It also is interesting if we look at, from a management perspective, this top-down culture that, you know, we’ve got to, you know, implement things at the top for things to change at the bottom. I don’t believe that.

And that’s why, as much as people are saying, “Come on, Joey, you can get in there and change things.” And I, trust me, I’m taking that very seriously. I’m trying to do what I can, but also, I want to encourage people that they, you know, it’s this whole sense of “Be the change you want to see in the world”. It’s by peer-to-peer influence. It’s by doing things and then on the front lines, and that we’re going to see the biggest change. It’s not going to be, and it seems to me, Brendan, I think we’re moving away from this sense of a top-down hierarchy that the boss makes all the calls and then everyone else has to follow. I’m hoping we’re moving away from that. But there seems to be more of this, you know, the sense of facilitation, certainly, there’s big decisions that do need to be made in a governance level.

And I am hoping that we can just tweak a few things, like the word experiment, bring that word in there so that people don’t have to get scared of change, but certainly, really, I mean, I’m going to be enjoying this, this opportunity and seeing what changes come about, but I’m hoping they’re not going to be too scary for people that it might be more of an experimental way of bringing people forward in the game, which is much needed. We’re sitting way too, we’ve been sitting stagnant for quite a long time. So, I think that’s a good intent of FFA to have this initiative to move forward. 

Brendan Rogers: I’m really glad you mentioned a point there early on around the, what I could say, that the limited focus on grassroots and as a football enthusiast, when I looked at the ‘Starting XI’, my first thought was, fantastic initiative. Then, the mind starts to move forward. And as I’m looking at, and again, I don’t know any of these people on the, in the ‘Starting XI’, as well as I know you. I know your passion for grassroots, but that was the thing that stood out for me is that I’m not seeing a lot of evidence of them spending a lot of time in that space, like when they finished their career, which is what you’ve gravitated to. And you’ve seen the benefit and the value you can provide in that space. So, I really think you’ve got the biggest challenge on your hands with that. And, it’s probably the disappointing side for me, as I said, just a football enthusiast to say, I would have loved to have seen far more grassroots representation in that group. So, with that in mind, like, how do you go about influencing? Because that’s a massive task for you. You are representing a massive part of the Australian football population because that sits predominantly in grassroots football.

Joey Peters: I do take it very seriously, Brendan, and I feel like it needs to come to some peer-to-peer influence. So, talking with you today, sharing these assumptions and hoping that people will be more open to valuing participation moreover performance, even because even, you know, at the grassroots level, we still see it, you know, going to my local club, you know, one of them I had to step away from because they had such a performance mindset of, we want to win as a local club. Which is fine to want to win. There’s no problem. Let me tell you, I love winning, but it’s not, that’s what we’re saying, it’s not all about that. And by focusing on this win and it starts coming as win at all costs, the short-term wins affect the long-term. So, that’s what I’m trying to say, “Guys, actually, let’s focus on the experience, the individual first, rather than looking at teams and results.”

So, we’re seeing it, even in grassroots, it’s a barrier for people. And so, I’m, the biggest thing for me for change is to relate to individuals like you. And I’m starting little circles of people. If you like little groups where I’m saying, “Okay, so what can we do to introduce something that’s going to be participation-based?” And then, from there, you know, those people are going out to their connections and saying, “Oh, do you guys want to see if we can experiment a little bit with this and focusing on participation, as opposed to the performance?” Spreading this web if you like, of peer-to-peer influence with me still then going back to FFA and starting to make sure that I make relationships with people there, because it’s just through these conversations that we can start actually looking at things differently. So, there is that sense of being able to still build relationships for me. From person to person, and then for the people that are already open for that and perhaps they’re already dabbling in experimental putting the child first and it’s then really encouraging them and doing things with them. But then, they go out and influence their network. And they’re joining up with people that have the same beliefs and values, such as participation and individual expression and creativity. So, then, that’s how I feel like we build a network that starts going from being the minority to being hopefully, one day, a majority.

Brendan Rogers: From what I’m seeing, and again, our interaction, you’re making so many right moves. What I want to go to Joey is your ideal outcome for youth development. What is that Utopia? What does that look like for you with youth development, particularly in the football culture?

Joey Peters: There’s so many people in the front line that are amazing in terms of their knowledge, their experience, their application. It’s the front lines that we should be listening to. Really, this top-down approach is silly. We should be actually looking at the front line. What is your experience, guys? That’s my starting point. “What are you experiencing?” “This is what I feel the problems are.” “And does that resonate with you? You know, this is the experiment, does that resonate with you?” And that’s how we change things. You know what, the best youth development would be that the kids are running it themselves. And I guess it fits in with that, the front line. You know, “Kids, what do you want to do?” Getting the answer from the front lines, getting the answers from the kids. “What do you want and how can we set up an environment that is so fun for you? That is enjoyable? That is competitive? That you can be as passionate and competitive as you want? That you can design, have dreams to be whoever you want? What do you want?” And for me, it would be that the kids would be running it, that we would have kids on these ‘Starting XI’ initiatives advising the FFA or its participants, you know, it’s participants driving it.

But in relation to, you know, the outcomes of the next couple of years, there’s a couple of projects that I’m starting already with people. One of them is transforming the competition formats. So, this culture of competitions, I’m almost experimenting with, going head on at it. You know, because if you go, if anyone has experienced sport, where you go down to your local game, you hear a lot of adults yelling basically. I’d be interested if anyone goes down and they don’t hear any adults yelling and there’s more kids’ noise than adults, that would be cool.

Please contact me because you know, it’s adults yelling, it’s this pressure of winning the short term. “Are we going to win today? How are we going to win today? Let’s do everything we can to win today.” And a lot of parents, putting that, then pressure on their kids as well as the coaches. So, I want to hit that, you know, head on. I want to start at the bottom with the first entry point for football, which is usually five-year-olds and change the competition format. And there’s plenty of examples around the world. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Currently, our experience is four v fours with no goalkeeper. For me, it would be, it seems like a simplest, smallest little detail. But for me, it would just mean changing from four v fours to two v twos.

There is a lot, obviously, you think of organisation, that’s twice as many fields and all the rest of it. And that’s where I, perhaps my experience and perhaps expertise can come into it because I see a lot of things that we don’t need to worry about in terms of, to burden people with an organisation perspective. There’s a lot of things we don’t have to do such as have sidelines, but that’s going into specifics. So, even just making small changes like that in a competition setting, will then take the focus off the team results onto the individual. So, there’s always reasons behind the outcomes that I’m looking for. But I want to experiment with hitting that front on that competition format, obviously from there, from under five right up so the kids’ experience anyway, which I’m hoping we can lengthen to 14. That’s another on that back end, you know. We go straight to the adult game at under 12, you know, extending that because we basically want to fit the game to the kids.

It’s like, you know, any analogy, really, bicycles, you know, you don’t just chuck a kid on a big adult bicycle. You know, we modify the bike and actually, I’m loving the balance bikes now. Take the pedals off because they realised the importance of balance. So, you know, it’s really modifying it to suit the kid. We want to go too quickly to the adult version. That’s the big one. I’ve got some other things like the whole coaching culture around, over coaching. So, the sense of trying to bring in free play. Free play would mean setting up an environment where there’s no coaching. The kids literally can play. And that’s again, offends people that, oh what we don’t need coaches? Well that’s when I’m saying let’s shift to being facilitators.

Sean Douglas, who’s the advanced coaching manager in FFA is actually trying to overhaul the whole coach education system because he’s finding a lot of flaws in it. There’s a lot of synergy between his values and my own as well around, you know, making it more relational to the coach, not just getting them to go through a course and get the accreditation.

Brendan Rogers: I can’t think of any better person to shine that grassroots torch than yourself. Again, just that passion that comes through what you’re doing, you’re living and breathing. It’s a big torch to hold. And I think you’re making the right moves to bring the support around you, to help hold that torch and to drive that through the organisation. And hopefully, timings right. You know, there’s a lot of things there, it’s, two years will go really, really quickly, but I’m confident in a person like you. And what I understand and know about you, that if anyone can make some significant inroads in two years, it’s someone like you. So, I think you’ve got a great opportunity to set that framework and the basis of some great things.

If you could share one piece of advice in relation to your space, particularly that youth development and the culture of youth development with parents and coaches, what would that advice be?

Joey Peters: It sounds quite formal, but to research, play more, and this idea around play as learning. I would even encourage us to find, play for ourselves again as adults, because I feel like we are just missing so much when we move away from this dynamic of play. And one of the definitions of play is that it is self-directed. There is autonomy in play. You can do whatever you want to do. And obviously, when you start working with others, you need to then negotiate what you’re doing. If as parents and as coaches, we can actually research more about play and if I can point you guys to a reference, Dr. Peter Gray. I call him the professor of play. He’s an evolutionary psychologist. So, he’s going into the whole history of play, but play, it really is for me, the foundation of how we could almost live our lives in terms of what we could learn about life, ourself, others, and also the missing, you know, which I feel like is becoming extinct is the sense of creativity and how structures and everything that we’ve set ourselves up in society is opposite to this playful.

And I wanted, that’s why I want to say find play for ourselves as adults, because we feel like it’s such a kiddy term. So, that means go and play with your kids or, go and play with someone or go out and play, you know, riding your bike, just have that sense of time, either for yourself or connecting with someone else in a playful state. And playful means there is no outcome. It is just the sense of being in the moment, the sense of connecting and exploring, you know, yourself, the other person in the world around you. Can we please come back to valuing play as a life line, and then from there, also as an actual powerful learning dynamic. So, that’s what I would point people to. Let’s play.

Brendan Rogers: Joey, based on today, I reckon there is so many people that would want to get in touch with you. If it’s just for, “Hey, keep shining that torch, offers of support, or maybe, some people, they want to get on board and do some help in the background, if they can. How can people get hold of you?

Joey Peters: Yes, thanks Brendan. Look, I’m really at a stage where I do need help with so many things. I’ve talked to you a bit about the back end of GAME PLAY LEARN, but even in sharing this, you know, the value of play and I mean, I call it GAME PLAY LEARN, you know, the sense of valuing participation. What I would suggest actually is if this, all this has really resonated with you, if you have already values and beliefs around this, then I would actually encourage you to go straight to my Facebook group, GPL Facilitators. Now, I know Facebook doesn’t suit everybody, but that’s something that is the easiest platform at the moment to really be able to share. I go on almost daily and share thoughts around this space and I encourage others to do the same as well. So, it’s a real community there. Go straight to that and join it if you already have similar values.

if this is something that is new to you but you’re very curious that you want to know more about this sense of valuing play and participation and getting away from all the pressures of sport and outcomes and performance, I would encourage you to subscribe to my website, www.gameplaylearn.net and that’s where I’ll want to be able to start introducing people to a journey. Start having little things like online courses, where you can really challenge yourself and apply it in your own context. And of course, the social platforms. I love Twitter. I would actually encourage you to go on Twitter. Again, if this is very new to you, Twitter was where I did most of my research. There are guys on there, like Marco Sullivan and Stuart Armstrong, who are already in this space of sharing articles and research around, you know, their experiences.

And you know, that gives us a bit more meat to understand a lot of where our culture is coming from and the culture of sport and people as well. So, Twitter, yeah, and other socials. Instagram, I’m still trying to reach out a bit more to the kids’ space there. So, if you know how to reach kids, ‘cause that’s important as well. Yeah. I’d love people to be able to, in the end, look, if you want to send me an email, joey@gameplaylearn.net, that’s cool as well. I’m finding it. I am getting more time for, to do individual work, but hey, you know, I love at least reading them. I don’t know if I can get back to them, but I love hearing people’s stories of how they’ve been inspired, what they’re doing and if I can at least connect people into this network. Yeah. We’re really gonna, looking at creating a movement, which is moving. We want to move forward. We want to move society forward, sport forward to make it, you know, a better experience. So, yeah. Look forward to meeting a lot more people from this hopefully, Brendan.  

Brendan Rogers: Thanks for sharing those channels to get hold of you. What I want to say, just to close off again, that movement, you are a great leader in that movement. You’re a champion on the field. And I think that you have a massive opportunity and I’m already seeing signs of the champion that you are and can continue to develop being off the field and absolutely change our game and particularly, the grassroots foundation forever. So, keep up the great work. Keep up the movement and let’s drive this thing forward. Well done, Joey.   

Joey Peters: Thank you so much, Brendan. Like. It really does mean a lot to me, everything you’ve been saying and the encouragement. It can get quite frustrating and perhaps seem a little bit lonely, but certainly at the moment, there seems to be this ground swell of people that are anticipating change, whether it’s because of COVID, it’s an exciting time. So, I really appreciate this opportunity to share with people and, you know, encourage everyone else to do this ‘cause it is just, it is so worth it. So, thank you so much, Brendan.

(Music plays)

Brendan Rogers: I was lucky enough to first meet Joey in 2012. She was coaching my son and daughter and her passion, her enthusiasm, her love for football and youth development was obvious. You could say she’s a bit of a diamond in the rough. And I mean that as a compliment. Joey is honest, compassionate, and her drive to bring out the creative genius in each person, young or old, is inspiring. I’ve been so fortunate to help Joey along in her journey. She has helped me look at my own work, through the lens of play and experimenting. I look forward to seeing what she achieves in the coming years with GAME PLAY LEARN and her FFA ‘Starting XI’ position.

What I know, is that every child involved at a grassroots football level is unbelievably lucky to have someone like Joey Peters going into bat for them to make their experience fun.

These were my three key takeaways from my chat with Joey.

My first key takeaway. Leaders are facilitators of learning. When we are leading a team, are we telling or asking? When we ask, we nurture and maximise the potential of each individual. We should be in the background and put people in the team first. It’s important to take your ego out of it. Teams do well if you let them work it out on their own.

My second key takeaway. Leaders get out on the front line. Real leaders will go to the front line and get a good understanding of what is happening by speaking to people. Joey says this top-down approach is silly and I have to agree with her. It doesn’t work. Leaders have to get out and ask questions, questions like, “What are you experiencing? What is working? What isn’t working? How can it be improved?” As a leader, you shouldn’t be stuck in an office. You need to be out experiencing the real world.

My third key takeaway. Leaders will allow teams to play and create. Joey says the word play with such enthusiasm. She does an almost daily video on her Facebook page where she is just filming her daily walk with a little girl playing. Watching it brings such valuable insights to the value of play, discovery, and experimentation. I know through my own experience with teams, the great ones are self-directed. When a great team is trying to solve an issue, it is like they are playing. Everyone is engaged and generating ideas. It is vital for leaders to create environments for play and creativity.

So, in summary, leaders are facilitators of learning. Leaders get out onto the front line. Leaders will allow teams to play and create.

If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a message at brendan@brendanrogers.com.au

Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time.

 

Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.