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The Cruyff Turn

Greg Bottrill, author of Can I Go Play Now..? and early years thought leader, shares some thoughts with us on the moments of magic that children produce that can surprise us. Like Dutch footballing maestro’s sudden turn, children’s imaginations and creativity can take them in strange new directions and on journeys of discovery; Greg explores them here.

Photographer: Md Mahdi | Source: Unsplash

Back in 1974, while playing for The Netherlands against Sweden in the World Cup, the imperious footballer, Johann Cruyff produced a move in the 24th minute that had never been seen on a pitch before. What he showed the World was a piece of skill that at the time felt like it had come from the magic of thin air. It quickly became known as the ‘Cruyff Turn’, a slice of time that stood out and glimmered with its own magic and the audacity of a player brimming with confidence and the joy of knowing he could pull it off.

Photographer: Robert Collins | Source: Unsplash

The Cruyff Turn has taken its seat in the annals of footballing history as a moment of genius. And it was a moment that only the great Johann Cruyff could have made. Only he had the unique ability to make those watching literally sit on the edge of their seats in the pure delight of it all. He brought something new into the world and made that world take note.

I’d like to think that childhood is equally adept at showing us a Cruyff Turn all of its own, those moments within each day that make the Adult World sit up and take notice, that fill it with a sense of having witnessed something special. We only see these moments when we are prepared to find time and space to look at what children are unearthing before us however. For in each day, if we truly believe in the magic of children, if we truly know that childhood needs choice and an immersion in creativity, collaboration and curiosity, then these moments will show themselves.

If however we are too busy with our own agenda within children’s days, if we are determined to make them more about our world than theirs, then we risk the chance of ever witnessing these moments. If we busy ourselves with only looking for what we want to see rather than what we can see, then in fact we are vulnerable to never seeing and valuing these moments at all. We would remain ‘play-blind’.

In my time as an educator and now in the Centre for Childhood, I see time and time again the flashes and sparks which children show us. Their amazing ability to think and create can shock enough to take our breath away if we let it. Even in the last week I’ve witnessed at least twenty ‘Cruyff Turns’ within children’s play-fullness. Cranes that only work if you can say your name backwards, steps made from large blocks that have been skilfully engineered to fit over two tables, mini mice crafted from yoghurt pots with snipped-paper whiskers, large scale marble runs that run the length of a room ending with a drop into a metal bucket whose sound as the marble landed was met with huge cheers of delight even from children not directly involved, and hamster houses made from various cardboard boxes all joined and made safe so that the hamster couldn’t escape and even including a map for them to follow.

Cruyff Turns don’t have to be all awe and wonder however. For some children it may be something seemingly innocuous to the Adult World but for that unique child it is something huge, the acquisition of a speech sound, a jump from a height, turn taking and being patient waiting for a resource, or joining in with a rhyme. In fact childhood is full of Cruyff Turns when we look to see them. And we can only see them when we are immersed in co-play, showing our Joy and seeing the Joy of childhood – we become authentically involved in children’s adventure into themselves. We become part of who they are.

Perhaps childhood is over-brimming with Cruyff Turns. The times when children say, “Stand aside, I have an idea” and when out of the blue, or so it would seem, they bring something to our attention that our Adult World minds have long forgotten in the pasts of our own childhood dream. For that is what childhood’s Cruyff Turn is – a dream brought to life, a dream of a different way, of The New, an act of creativity and play-fullness that jolts us into remembering that objects can be re-imagined, that songs can be sung, time can be taken, and that joy can be felt even within the smallest things: the Joy of Being You and the Joy of Being Me…

Curious Question

Do you see Cruyff Turns all around you in the days spent with childhood? Do you and your team have breath taken away by the capabilities of children? Does the magic of children echo inside of you as you witness it unfold?