For as long as I can remember I have been a student of the game. As a player, I used to analyse everything. I wondered why the football I watched on TV was so different to the football I saw here in Australia. Why when I played we did not play like the teams I watched and worshipped on SBS every Sunday morning. Today I am a coach and not much has changed I am constantly asking questions, questions about myself and everything I do and see. I’m on a mission to learn, to gather evidence, to assess and evolve and I will continue to work out ways to improve the process of development for young footballers. My search has led me to try to understand how we think, how the brain works and in my research, I have gathered information that affects the way I train my players. It all started with a gentleman named Ken Robinson and his video’s on TED TV these where a real eye-opener for me. I had hunches that a particular style of teaching/training was more effective than the traditional methods. Football is a creative game and when you spend as much time as I have to watch and analyse the game you become quite in tune with certain aspects of the game which become very apparent. What makes some players better at reading the game than others? What makes a creative player creative? What makes a team play the way it does? My research has led me to try to understand a bit more about how our brain works and doing so I have found some very interesting concepts.
It is this research that has driven my football philosophy and has transformed my methodology. You see we have two systems with which the brain operates. It is our subconscious system which takes in vast amounts of information and tries to form patterns to simplify the things that happen around us. For example, we do not think about the act of walking consciously, we just do it. However in order to walk our brain must still send the signal to our feet in order to move so we quickly learn to walk without having to consciously think about it! Therefore in a game of football, there is vast amounts of information which our brain has to subconsciously decipher. So how do we train the decision making processes that are controlled subconsciously by the brain? How do we deal with the things that are happening indirectly? How does one train the brain to find those patterns and create conductive habits via the subconscious?
What I have found is that developing this process is largely obtained through the learning or playing environment which generally only exist in real game situations. Therefore, I have developed my training so that players are always in game related environments. The official term is gamification. We could delete pressure and isolate the practice but this is a fundamental flaw because in a game the patterns are continuously changing because of resistance from the opposition. Therefore players must not only train the subconscious to look for patterns but must also deal with the fact that there is a ball at their feet and someone is always trying to steal it from them. You see if the brain likes to work with patterns to draw quick conclusions then teaching players optimal positioning of the ball will give the player on the ball the patterns his brain needs to make those decisions. This is where the ideal positioning system comes to play as the 12323 represent triangular patterns and multiple lines and options. In the 12323 which starting from 3 v 3 will represent the basic triangle, moving into 4 v 4 diamond and 5 v 5 W. They help players to develop optimum positioning. i.e one to the left one to the right, one centre and one far based on the game’s environment such as direction, time, space, opponents and the objectives of the game.
Through research, experience and travel I have developed my Philosophy. It is your philosophy that drives your thought process, it determines how your team will play, it determines your methodology in how you train your team and more importantly it will determine how a youth player develops. Over and over again I keep hearing that Australian players lack technique. To a certain extent, this may be true. However, I believe that it is not a lack of technique that is the problem. For me the problem is consistency. A detailed and structured pathway based on a set philosophy. For children to reach their full potential. There are a million different variables that need to be present. The starting point, however, is a detailed philosophy starting with a holistic principle. This is because the chances of success are much greater when an athlete has the right attitude towards training, competing and life in general. It starts with teaching values. These values are then what drives the learning environment, next is the methodology, or how you perceive and facilitate the learning environment. From day one children must be put into an environment where risk is common and pressure is constant. Where playing the ball on the ground and dribbling past opponents is accepted. Where winning is more of an attitude than a destination. In other words, the emphasis is on the style of play rather than just systems or tactics. It’s more about allowing kids to solve problems by offering a means for them to explore the solutions. This means instead of saying don’t and two touches you ask why, when, how. By definition, creativity is an act of rebellion, so if players are urged to play a certain way in the right environment they will. As discussed previously the system of the 12323 helps to develop positional patterns and in turn, creates specialist players for those positions.
So if we are to move forward at a much faster rate we need to understand that it is the subconscious mind that controls 90% of your actions. These are derived from your life’s experiences, your environment therefore if our players are put in the right environment with a good methodology we will have players and coaches capable of much more than what we are currently producing. The FFA has to address our nations football philosophy. Having a curriculum is not the only answer to the development problems that exist it is only the beginning. To quote Ken Robinson, “let’s give them an aesthetic experience which leaves their senses operating at their peak”