You may think you know why FC Barcelona is the world’s most popular football club. Think again.
| 5 min read
BARCELONA, Spain — It felt like a pilgrimage. After more than a year of anticipation and preparation, I travelled to Spain in July to the renowned athletic complex where FC Barcelona shapes some of the best young soccer players in the world. Here, under the brilliant sunshine, the Barça Academy and its elite youth coaches groom the next generation of first team superstars.
Our mission on this trip: capture the Barça Way on video for the MOJO app and make the world’s best soccer training available for coaches and families at the tap of a button.
Standing on the sidelines of Field 8 in the Ciutat Esportiva — the “Hogwarts of soccer,” as one of my colleagues quipped — I watched young Spanish players perform dazzling feats while some of the world’s top youth coaches guided them.
Bernat Villa Gorriz, a dashing technical director with the FC Barcelona Academy, helped organize our week-long production. When I commented that the academy kids must dream of moving up some day to the famous Barcelona “first team” with its superstar athletes and lucrative contracts, he smiled.
It’s the other way around, he said. “The first team dreams of playing like these kids,” he explained. “The kids have all the fun and fall in love with the game. The adults would do much better — and feel happier — if they remembered what they learned and how they felt on this field.”
Of all experiences that week in Spain, this moment was the most memorable.
In a way, the global sports industrial complex (and its dream factory) have the assembly line backwards. Kids shouldn’t aspire to play like professionals. Rather, professionals should aspire to play like kids.
The Barça Way, as I understand it, is a value system that, if properly inculcated in young athletes, creates adults who can hold on to what’s most important about sports — which is the fun. Kids at the Barça Academy work and train incredibly hard. But they play like kids. And they are a joy to watch, because they are having a ball, together.
And that’s exactly why, when things are really clicking, it’s so great watching FC Barcelona play the beautiful game.
But it’s about more than just play. As Gorriz explained to me, the Barça Way is rooted in the club’s core values, which apply as much to players as fans. They are:
Humility — “knowing how to be clear about one’s values, and to maintain them and defend them even in situations where you are clearly superior and more successful”
Effort — “dedication, rigor, constancy, sacrifice and perseverance all bear fruit”
Ambition — “the impulse to grow”
Respect — “the basic requirements of democratic life and the capacity to live in society”
Teamwork — when the individual “acts on behalf of the whole”
And yes, the acronym is heart.
Watching Gorriz and the coaches from the Barça Academy, it became clear they aren’t just teaching kids in order to groom the next Messi, Xavi, Busquets or Iniesta.
Those lessons reach far beyond Field 8.
With luck, these values stay with kids for life.
In retrospect, I realize now that when I first began to conceive of MOJO, I literally had this whole business backwards. I thought it should be about kids learning from the very best athletes in the business. I wanted Russell Wilson to show kids how to throw that clutch, game-winning pass. I wanted Kevin Durant to teach aspiring ballers how to dominate the court. I wanted Megan Rapinoe to inspire soccer players on and off the field.
Sounds great, right?
But then I thought about what made youth sports so meaningful in my own life. It wasn’t the star athletes, it was the small, hilarious, uncoordinated people on the field, their parents on the sidelines, this community that reinvents itself season by season in communities all over Los Angeles, the United States, the world. That is the reason we show up every Saturday morning, or rush to practice twice a week. That is what makes this period of life so magical.
It’s about the kids — and the adults who come together to help them grow, and cheer them on.
I’m not suggesting The MOJO Way is akin to The Barça Way. But there’s an emotional through-line for me — the lessons for a lifetime that we learn on and off the field. With luck, both the slick soccer moves and the hard-earned wisdom about equality, empathy, effort and fairness don’t just stay on the field, they’ll stay with young athletes for life.
And if they pay attention, even as adults, they can do what the greatest football team in the world does: play like kids.