Let Them Play: Play Your Heart's Tune
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When I was a child someone told me that I would amount to nothing.

That I would just live an ordinary existence.

It doesn't matter who that someone was. 

What matters is that I believed them. 

Until now... 

 

I've wasted so many years with that person's voice stuck in my head.

I've spent so many minutes playing that broken record over and over again. 

Until one day.... 

I woke up and decided to hit stop. 

 

I decided that if the mind were a disk, 

That my disk may as well play a good tune, 

And if that tune for whatever reason turned sour, 

I'd turn it off.

 

I wonder how many people waste their lives away, 

Listening to someone else's tune? 

So I ask of you, I beg of you, 

Play your heart's tune and no other, 

 

No other tune will do.

Ben SippolaComment
A Vision For Porirua: "Let Them Play"
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I have this vision

A team of parents – someone probably like yourself – trying to build out from the back and while doing so, their children are screaming absurdities at them.

Someone recently said to me, “there is so much noise in youth football development.”

I agree. 100%.

Definition of Noise: Any sound that interferes with one’s hearing of something or that causes distraction. Example: I couldn’t hear him over all the noise.

Yes.

There is “so much noise in youth football development.”

So much racket interfering with what is actually important.

Fun.

So much babel distracting us from getting to the point.

Learning.

How does one cut through all the commotion?

Simple.

Let Them Play.

In 2018, will you add or detract from the noise?

Will you play a part in the pandemonium?

Or…

Will you allow the kiddos to get on the pitch and just absolutely get after it?

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochos

So let them train… Let Them Play.

Ben SippolaComment
A PORIRUA "LET THEM PLAY" PROJECT: Olé Football Academy

At Porirua Project we see unlimited potential in the child from Porirua. As a football academy located in "the city of two tides," this is, of course, in our best interest. 

Why not?

If we were speaking rugby, no one would bat an eye at phrases like “unlimited potential” or “world - class.” So, why is it that football - soccer - causes such a ruckus in New Zealand? 

We’ve got a few theories of our own. 

The understanding of “talent”

Do you really understand this word? What do you mean when you say “talent”? Are you talking aptitude - one’s natural tendencies - or 10,000 hours of deliberate purposeful practice? Do you believe in “god - given” ability? Or... Do you believe in environment, opportunity and that “practice makes perfect?” What does “talent” mean to you? How does your understanding of “talent” shape everything, everything, everything, you do? 

The implications of culture on football development

New Zealand is a “rugby country and culture.” Children are able to envision themselves as “All - Blacks” from day one. A realistic storyline tomorrow, because it’s been done yesterday. From Porirua to Perenara. The New Zealand family's dream. That is, until the concussions kick in. There will never be a “World - Class” footballer produced from Porirua. We beg to differ.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Enough Said...

Could New Zealand be a “football country?”

We believe so. Absolutely. Without a doubt. With the “correct” set of environmental condition in place, of course. In football terms “unlimited potential.... “World - Class” footballers can be developed Straight Outta’ Porirua. Why not? Remember, Ryan Thomas came from a place called Te Puke. Yuck! 

Can you explain that?

We can. We’ll save that for another post though. In the meantime, check out some other Porirua Projects. “World - Class” Footballers Straight Outta’ Porirua. We like the sound of that. It would make a nice t-shirt. 

In the words of Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changin’.” Perhaps the best folk singer ever, Straight Outta' Northern Minnesota's Backwoods. Explain that?

It became clear to me that the tour players were not differentiating themselves from each other. In fact, they were growing Toward one another. Human beings tend to become the norm that they are exposed to. This is the astonishing power of environment. You become your surroundings!
— Kapil Gupta (Atmamun) 
Ben SippolaComment
A Porirua "Let Them Skate" Project
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When I was a kid, my friends and I used to break into this skatepark in our neighborhood. Sounds funny, breaking into a skatepark, especially in New Zealand where there is seemingly one in every small town and city. It cost $15 to enter and you could skate all day. It was the only skatepark in town, so they made a business of it. It wasn't long though before we started making our own jumps, ramps and rails. We tried, but despite our Etnies and Birdhouse boards we never quite got the quarter pipe going or the half pipe we dreamt of. 

The funny thing looking back, is that our parents actually encouraged us to break into the skatepark. Surely they thought is was as silly as we did. We weren't shattering windows or breaking down doors, nothing like that. Just jumping barbed wire fences with door mats and gardening gloves. Hardly breaking in. Definitely trespassing. It was fun and it was cool for a while. The gatekeepers could not keep us out. 

It is more often the case that the gatekeepers of the status quo are the most powerful and well positioned. Interestingly enough it is usually an outcast who offends them by demanding more.

My friends and I never ended up being that hot at skateboarding. Perhaps the barbed wire fence and the fear of a trespassing notice proved too much in the end or that we actually preferred playing football. Decidedly so, the skatepark had too many barriers to entry, where the football pitch was just out the front door. It didn't cost a thing and we were free to come and go as we pleased. No obstacles. Just play. So that's what we did. Played and played. Barefoot, two goals made out of flip - flops (jandals) and a football. 

My friends and I probably could have been really good skateboarders. Not probably, definitely. We grew up in backyard swimming pools with Blink 182 blasting on stereos. Playstation 2 had just been released. Tony Hawk was at his peak. Bob Burnquist. Bucky Lasek. Chad Muska. We knew these names. It was an epic time to be a skater. But, we lived in Minnesota. There weren't any skateparks, and the only one we knew of was one that you had to "break into." 

I remember one summer, we hosted a group of "Brasilian Boys" for the Schwan's USA Cup in Blaine, Minnesota. The Brasilians introduced us not only to football - real football - for the very first time, they also taught us how to eat sunfish South American style. The whole fish, cooked on a stick over a barbecue on the beach. A pinch of salt. Nothing else. Simplicity at its core. We played football barefoot, swam to our hearts content and ate a sunfish buffet for 10 days straight. Those days seem so very long ago now. No gatekeepers just endless delicious freedom and fun.

I'm not sure where we've gone right or wrong with football development in the 21st century. We could talk about this for hours, days, months. Everyone seems to be. I just hope that the guardians of the game - the gatekeepers - understand how critical their roles really are in this whole big thing. More critical than a paycheck, politics, pride and power, is fulfilling potentials, providing environments, and opening the floodgates to freedom and fun.

I'm sitting in a cafe in New Zealand. Across the street there is a skatepark. The sun is shining. It is a beautiful day. You can bet that the kids are out there. Skating. Playing. Mucking about. Messing things up. Trying over and over again. Nothing is stopping these kids from becoming the best skateboarders in the world. I like that thought. Knowing that they didn't have to "break into" all that freedom and fun is sort of nice. Almost as much as the thought of sunfish, flip - flops and football. 

In every town of this great earth there are excuses. There are a million justifications as to why top-flight footballers cannot be developed in your portion of paradise.

Aside the skate park is a big open field. Gigantic. Green. Not a single soul is out there. Recently someone told me that their dream is to see children playing pick - up football in New Zealand parks. Maybe he's absolutely crazy. I'd like to think not. I see so much potential in New Zealand football it hurts. I've heard that "the obstacle is the way" and can understand the rationale. Pain makes us stronger. Dams force us to discover new channels. Yes, the obstacle may be the way. But someone had to check a box to build those skate parks in every little town in New Zealand. And someone had to scream from the top of their lungs "let the kids skate!" And someone had to open up the floodgates.

Someone had to...

Above quotations taken from Todd Beane's No Excuses in Paradise.

Read More: Surfing, Soccer & Prototypes – The Way Players Learn by Todd Beane 

Ben SippolaComment
A Porirua "Let THem Play" Project: Virtuoso Strings Orchestra

Elizabeth Sneyd is the director of Virtuoso Strings, a non-for profit charitable trust that provides free instruments and free tuition to students at low decile schools in Porirua. Currently, Sneyd oversees the musical development of over 160 young musicians in East Porirua. On top of her teaching duties, Sneyd is jack of all virtuoso strings trades including, but not limited to: trip organiser, event manager, administrator, shuttle driver, full - time volunteer and mother of five. Over the past 25 years, Sneyd has played in professional orchestras in America and New Zealand. She holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics with a minor degree in Music from the University of Wisconsin. This past week Porirua Project was able to catch up with Sneyd at Brandon Intermediate to discuss her Porirua Project.

Anybody who works in East Porirua realises that the kids have hugely bright futures, huge talent, huge potential, but they need support. You don’t realise your potential unless somebody has guided you and supported you.
— Elizabeth Sneyd

Q: What's your Porirua Project? 

A: We run free music programmes across East Porirua. We are currently in 8 different schools and also have kids come to our home in Tawa from a number of other schools. Kids come into the programme through decile 1 primary schools. In short, we go around teaching large groups in the schools during the day; we teach selected kids after school, run holiday programmes, hold twice-weekly orchestra rehearsals in the evening. We take the kids on big orchestra tours and run music camps. We also take huge boxes of donated food to orchestra rehearsals at Porirua College to feed the musicians.  

Q: Why Porirua? 

A: There is an enormous need. Kids in Porirua simply don't have the opportunities to do the things that kids from wealthier families and more privileged neighbourhoods do. So, you have all these enthusiastic, talented, motivated kids and there is nothing for them to do. There is a huge gap. The kids really love their music. They are enthusiastic and motivated, but there is this great gap between loads of kids loving music and wanting to do it, almost no teachers in the area, and very few families with the financial means to pay for music tuition.

Q: What does the project need? 

A: Maybe a winning lotto ticket (laugh)... More volunteers to help out. More people who want to do some thinking about how we can really build this into a truly sustainable organisation. People who want to sit down and nut things out. More teachers. Just more people who have the passion to make it work. Because we can make it work. We will figure out a way. Obviously money and financial support is the biggie... corporate sponsorship is definitely something we want to look into. 

Q: What is your biggest problem? 

A: People outside the Porirua area just don't get it. They don't get it in the sense that they don't believe in the future of these kids. Anybody who works in East Porirua realises that the kids have hugely bright futures, huge talent, huge potential, but they need support. You don't realise your potential unless somebody has guided you and supported you. If you come from a background with family violence or acute deprivation or ill heath or poor housing for example you need more support than if you had come from a privileged background. Not only is more support required but that support is harder to give because you cannot communicate via the normal channels. Communication and logistics is difficult. You don't have email. You don't have people with money on their phones to text you back, so we're very much reliant on face to face communication. More support is needed and that support takes longer to provide. If we could persuade other organisations and government to help us provide that support we could with 100% certainty change the future of pretty much every kid that we engage with. 

Q: What pisses you off?

A: There's a lot of condescension towards Maori and Pacific musicians. For example, when I'm asking for tickets to the Symphony Orchestra or I’m trying to get the Virtuoso Strings Orchestra to play at certain venues, or persuading teachers in the profession to come help out for a few hours, I'm getting zero buy in. With the odd exception of course, but most of the people that help tend to have some Maori or Pacific connection themselves. So they are more understanding. 

It is the total lack of understanding and lack of practical support that is frustrating. You get that sort of "Oh that's lovely what you are doing, (but don't ask ME to teach the kids or help out. I don’t want to get my hands dirty)." I applied to a funder recently that professes to support and help the futures of young musicians. I applied for $500. A pretty realistic amount, I thought. I wasn't asking for $5,000 or $50,000. I got zero. Why? Because there is not the core belief that with support these kids will succeed. Now they won't succeed without support, but the support they need is really easy to provide. You just need some motivated people and some money and you need to do what needs to be done. That kinda sums it up...

Q: What would surprise people?

A: They'd be surprised how disciplined these kids are in their own time. How hard they practise and the amount of effort that goes in. People will visit me at school and they'll see a lot of goofing around, stuffing around, running around, noise, chaos, mayhem, and they often equate that with zero discipline, motivation, enthusiasm, effort. I say total garbage. What surprises a lot of people is what these kids are doing when nobody is looking. They are getting their violin out at home and practising, which is why my 1st violins are pretty good. You don't get to that level by mucking around. So I think it surprises people that you can learn skills in a relaxed environment, and that this atypical way of learning does not equate with lack of discipline. 

Q: What are your success stories?

A: Well... on an individual basis, Toloa Faraimo is the best student I have taught in my entire life. He is simply exceptional. He will be famous one day. He has huge passion, the coordination, the creativity, the talent, the discipline. He ticks every single box. He has way more talent than I ever had. He will do his grade 8 exam at the end of this year. Grade 8 usually takes the average student nine to ten years to complete. It will take him two and a half years. So we are talking an order of magnitude faster at learning, than most. (READ Porirua children's orchestra hitting all the right chords on international exams)

But there are dozens and dozens of success stories. The biggest successes, if I am thinking about it more holistically, are in terms of how far whole Whānau have come over the last few years. For example, you see parents and caregivers really engage with their kids’ learning. You see kids excelling in their music, not only that, excelling academically, being good leaders. Sometimes you don't really notice the huge benefits until you look at it longitudinally over a few years. So you have people like Toloa who is just a phenomenal musician. But more importantly you can see entire families being turned around, whole attitudes to learning shifting. The big self esteem thing - that is probably our biggest success. You know what I mean? That's more meaningful than playing an instrument or running with a ball, you know... you'll always find someone better than you at the violin or rugby. You'll always find somebody that can run or move their fingers faster. We are trying to produce - all of us - happy human beings. It all comes down to that really, doesn't it.

Ben SippolaComment