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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Best Coaching Links Of The Week: Neuroathletics, Fear of Shame & More

Neuroathletics is difficult to define but essentially it is the practise of training your brain and linking it with your athletic prowess.  It is also hard to prove just how valuable it is as a practise, regardless of the success stories that are relayed as being wholly the result of neuroathletics.  Still it is important to know about it and understand what it is because even if one does not wholly accept it there are undoubtedly certain elements that are worth further study.

“Fear of shame is a waste and a trap”

Recently within the coaching community there was something of an uproar after Fulham FC put out an advert asking children to come for trials to join their academy with the call being open even to children as young as five.  It sparked a big debate that focused on club’s ability to truly judge players that young.  If you’re uncertain what the fuss was all about or would like to read an article that digs deep into the issue, then this is it.

Another in the ‘learn from other sports’ category this time by reading up a bit about the legendary swimming coach Jack Bauerle.

“The first task is to get to know the players really well-watching them as individuals in training and in match play-to see what is good in their natural game. Then, and only then, can we begin to outline the general tactics.” – Helenio Herrera [Legendary Inter FC manager, tactical innovator & father of catenaccio]

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Best of Coaching Links Last Week: Economics in Football, Half Spaces, Maurizio Sarri & More

Economics might seem to be an unlikely place to look for reasons why clubs invest money in their youth academy and then proceed to ignore practically player that comes through.  Yet a developing branch of economics - behavioural economics - that looks at why people make certain decisions has plenty of theories that provide explanations.  Being aware of them might help clubs be more rational in their decision making.

An article on why collaboration, rather than competition, should be the rule among coaches.

As everyday talk about football becomes increasingly more technical then the need to dig a little deeper to learn about some of the newer terminology also increases.  Half spaces is one such term and this is a good explanation of what that is all about.

Maurizio Sarri has emerged as one of the most interesting coaches in European football, capable of developing an attacking side that even managed to overcome the loss of a striker of the calibre of Gonzalo Higuain.  His systems and ideas are discussed in this video.

"Football is the most important of the less important things in the world." - Carlo Ancelotti

Monday, March 13, 2017

Blueprint for Football's Different Ideas

One of the ideas behind Blueprint for Football is that of looking at different ideas that are – or should be - influencing the game of football.  We’ve done that over the years and here is an overview (shown by order of publishing with the most recent ones being on top) of the most influential of those ideas.

On Curiosity 
Essential Qualities of a Football Coach: Curiosity [May 2016]
There is the belief that great innovations come from lightbulb moments when inspiration hits and the fully formed idea is conceived.  That isn’t the case.  Instead great ideas are usually the result of years of thinking about something and linking it to knowledge learned from elsewhere.  It is for this reason that curiosity is important as it is through it that one accumulates the knowledge needed to thread together different concepts.
Memorable Quote: “What people should be trying to foster is…epistemic curiosity, which is a more structured and deeper form of curiosity that can ignite the desire to learn and attempt to do things that one would not normally consider.” 

On Habits
How Habits Shape Football (And Why They Matter To You) [October 2013]
The most tactically disciplined teams are also those who seem to know instinctively when they should be doing a particular action.  Think of Arsenal’s back four under George Graham moving in unison to set-off the offside trap or Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona pressing defenders as soon as possession was lost.  The thing is that this is hardly instinctive but rather a movement that is dictated by habits, an idea that every coach has to be aware of.
Memorable Quote:  “Barcelona’s game, then, isn’t a spontaneous expression of genius but rather the perfect execution of a series of deeply ingrained habits.”

On Perception
Perception is in the Eye of the Beholder [September 2013]
Can you teach a player how to be more aware of what is happening around him?  Can you determine how aware a player is of what is happening around him by watching him play?  The answer to both questions is yes and Geir Jordet, who has studied in depth the idea of perception provided a breakdown on how this is possible.  For coaches looking for some different ideas to investigate, this has to be on their read list.
Memorable Quote: “Players tend to look too much at the ball; you don't really need all the information you get from the ball.”

On Psychology 
Helping the Brain to Win Games [May 2013]
The history of the game of football is littered with players who had the talent but not the mental capacity to succeed.  It is a shameful waste considering how much resources there are out there for them to help themselves.  As for coaches, they too have to have a good handle of the basics of sports psychology and Dan Abrahams delivered a primer on that in this interview.
Memorable Quote: “(Sports psychology) is the bottom of the wish list for clubs and also probably at the bottom of the wish list for player. Yet we talk how important the psychological side is in football so there is a bit of a disconnection.”

On Specialisation
Bursting the Specialisation Myth [September 2012]
The idea that the 10,000 hour practise rule is, at best, an indicator rather than a rule that guarantees expertise is now quite accepted but at the time of this interview with the University of Birmingham Senior Lecturer Dr Martin Toms his arguments flew in the face of the pop-psychology beliefs set about by Malcolm Gladwell’s books.  A wide ranging interview that delves into the damage that early specialisation does to players and how it would be best to let children try out a number of sports.
Memorable Quote: “Specialising in one sport at a young age is actually detrimental to success.”

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Best of Coaching Links This Week: Tempo, Throw-Ins & More

Philosophy has become something of a buzzword in football over recent years and no manger worth his salt can afford not to have one.  That, however, is the easy part: it gets tricky when you have to instill your philosophy in your players when you only have a very limited number of days during which you can train your players.

Any team that can dictate the pace of the game has a huge advantage over their opponent because they can then determine what gets to be done on the pitch.  But what is tempo and how does it work?  Here's an in-depth analysis.

Every aspect of the game gets analysed these days as teams go out in search of that element which can give them an advantage over the rest.  So it should be.  This focus on all aspects now includes the throw in.

There's always a lot to learn away from football and this interview with Mike Krzyzewski who among other things coached the US to three gold medals in basketball is filled with delightful insight.

“Cups are not won by individuals, but by men in a team who put their club before personal prestige." - Jock Stein.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How Economics Explains Why Clubs Don’t Give Young Players A Chance

Each year, clubs at the highest levels of the game spend millions on their academy or youth system.  Each year, promising players train in these academies.  And, each year, they fail to get an opportunity to show what they are capable of.

It is an anomalous and fairly ridiculous situation that in many respects could only happen in football.  No other business would invest that much money and then fail to use what came through.  At least no business acting rationally would act that way.

The thing is that football clubs (as does any normal business, for the matter) act irrationally.  There is rarely any grand strategy in place and this is evidenced by how quickly confidence in a manager can deteriorate after a run of bad results, regardless of what that manager had achieved in the past.

For the past forty years, economists have been looking at ways to explain such irrationality.  The foundation of behavioural economics, this new branch in the science, was laid by two Israeli professors - Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman – who set economics down the path of looking at what influences people’s behaviour to determine how they act and why they do so in such a manner (for more information on these two and their work, read Michael Lewis’ fantastic book The Undoing Project). 

In doing so they looked at a number of psychological factors that influence people’s decision and prevent them from acting in a rational or consistent manner.

It is such factors that have to be looked at in order to understand what stops clubs from trying to maximise the investment that they make in academies.  And there’s plenty worth looking into.

One in particular stands out.

Any project like a football academy has to be based on a long term vision.  That much is obvious.  Yet it contrasts with most managers’ focus on the present.  It is a vicious circle that clubs effectively bring on themselves by failing to stick to long term projects.

It is a behaviour that behavioural economists will be familiar with, having observed and documented it in what has become known as the present bias.   This is the tendency to over-value immediate rewards at the expense of long-term ambitions, regardless of the impact that it might have later on in life.

A classic example of this is when a person fails to save up any money, opting instead to spend it in order to fully live ‘the moment’.  Eventually a time will come when it is too late to start saving up and that individual has nothing on which to turn.

That is what clubs are doing with their academies.  The absence of a long term project forces everyone on the playing side to focus on the immediate outcome.  Managers, knowing that their job could be at risk with a series of bad results, will opt for his more experienced players on whom he can rely more heavily.

Young players are more likely to make mistakes.  Regardless of their talent they may not by physically ready or might be too slow to react; making critical mistakes in the process.  Those are the mistakes that in truth they need to make in order to develop and learn yet managers rarely have the luxury of allowing them that room to grow.  Managers need players who can deliver immediate results.

They are biased in favour of those players who can help them in the present.

This is costing clubs heavily.  It is a short term view for a number of reasons starting from the obvious that the performances of older players tend to decrease rapidly once they hit a particular age.  The outcome here is that the club would then have to look for another player to replace him, thus spending more money to do so.  

What’s worse is that such spend is the equivalent of throwing money away.  For while that older player might ensure immediate reliability, the value of such experienced players rarely appreciates.  Within a couple of years that player will have to be moved on and often only a fraction – if any – of the initial outlay is recovered.

This contrasts with the value of a young player that tends to appreciate notably as they gain experience, confidence and start to express their ability on a more consistent basis.  Financially, the development of a young player is easily more beneficial than going for established ones.

Still clubs opt not to do so.  Again this is hardly surprising for behavioural economists who have an explanation as to why this happens: they are falling prey to hyperbolic discounting.  Without going into the technicalities of what this term means, essentially it refers to the decision making process whereby the farther away a potential return is, the more it is discounted and less it is valued.

It is only when clubs get to a situation where they have nothing to lose by trying something different that they really start to shed such bias.  A typical case was that of Borussia Dortmund who, after going to the edge of bankruptcy in their bid to regain their status in German football, opted to put their faith in young players (and a young coach).  Their rewards were immediate and significant: two league titles and a Champions League final.

Judging by the players that they have bought over recent months, Borussia Dortmund have made sure not to fall in their old routine – or fall back on their bias – by signing promising young players.  It is a brave move but, if the rules of behavioural economics are anything to go by, it could also be the right one.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Best of Coaching Links This Week: Crosses, Learning from Experience, Impressive Huddersfield & more

One of the most interesting ways to learn, I find, is to talk to people.  It might seem to be an imposition but you'd be surprised to find how often people are more than willing to dedicate their time if they see that you are genuinely interested.  And, more often than not, you'll find that what they tell you stick effortlessly in your memory.  It is why I enjoy doing interviews for Blueprint for Football so much.  The most recent of those interview, with experienced Spanish coach Ismael Díaz Galán who has guided a number of clubs in Spain (including Malaga who he led to promotion) as well as elsewhere around the world, was no exception as he spoke frankly about what it takes to be a manager.  Read, enjoy and learn.

I have to admit that the first time that I saw Huddersfield play was when they met Manchester City in the FA Cup but was suitably impressed by how the team functioned as a unit despite the absence of any remarkable talents.  It is an impression that happens to be backed up by statistics.

As football changes so too does what is held to be important.  Wingers, especially those who did their best work as close to the touchline as possible, used to be a vital element in each team but today are considered out-dated.  The same, to an extent, believed about crosses in the box who are considered outdated in an era where ball possession is king.  Yet that isn't the case.

One of the most pleasing (yet surprisingly under-reported) stories of this season has been Atalanta's rise.  Last week they achieved an extremely impressive win in Naples.  Here's how they did it, tactically.

“It is an art in itself to compose a starting team, finding the balance between creative players and those with destructive powers, and between defence, construction and attack – never forgetting the quality of the opposition and the specific pressures of each match.” - Rinus Michels

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Best of Coaching Links This Week: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Tattoos to Monitor Performance & More

There are a lot of people – in football as in life – who opt to allow others dictate what they’re doing.  They might not realise it but without consciously intending to they let their own original thoughts be over-ruled by what is expected of them.  Inspired by Mark Manson’s book and using Arrigo Sacchi as a model, this piece looks at how coaches allow others to interfere and why they shouldn’t do so.

Michael Beale, one of the most respected young coaches in England has taken the unusual step of moving to Brazil where he will be an assistant coach at Sao Paolo.  It is in many ways a brave yet easy decision to make because, regardless of how it goes, the experience that he accrues will allow him to grow.  In this interview he talks about that decision and provides his views on youth development.

Although as a club Fulham has faced a lot of difficulties lately, it’s big saving grace has been an academy that has produced an incredible amount of talent.   It is one of the big success stories lower down the English league structure (Nottingham Forest and MK Dons being another two) that are well worth examining.

I found this piece on the advancements being made by electronics in the form of wearable tattoos extremely interesting, especially if you think about the options that it opens up for football.

“One night, I went to a bar; I was with a woman. We talked all night. We laughed, we flirted, I paid for several drinks of hers. At around 5 am, a guy came in, grabbed her by the arm and took her to the bathroom. He made love to her and she left with him. That doesn’t matter, because I had most of the possession on that night.” - Jorge Sampaoli