Google+ Blueprint for Football: Getting Players to Think

Monday, January 16, 2017

Getting Players to Think

Todd Beane (Photo Courtesy of TOVO Academy)

A lot of coaches have mentors who guide their formation and towards whom they look as they develop their ideas.  Few however can match American Todd Beane who found his tutor in his father-in-law, the legendary player, manager and football visionary Johann Cruyff.

Beane began working with Cruyff in the foundation of the Cruyff Institute – an educational institution aimed at educating athletes, sport and business professionals in the field of sport management - in 2002 and continued his work there until Johan’s passing last year. 

As a player he had played professionally in the United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues (USISL) in America and, before that, he had also played NCAA Division I football at Dartmouth College.  Eventually he transitioned into coaching where he obtained the US Soccer Federation “A” License, coaching both collegiately and professionally.

His other main calling was teaching where he has enjoyed an academic career in a number of institutes having obtained an M.A. in Education and a Secondary Teaching Credential from Stanford University.

More recently, Beane has set up TOVO Training which is a program aimed at developing players’ competencies, cognition and character through game-based exercises. Using the knowledge that he has gained over the years and which typically is available to players at the top academies, he now wants to pass this on to those who wouldn’t normally have access to such knowledge.  

On top of it all, Beane wants to get football players thinking on their game: the trait that often marked out Cruyff’s teams and players.

Blueprint for Football: Where does your hunger to teach and coach come from?
Todd Beane: I have always enjoyed sport and coaching was a wonderful way to extend my participation in football and give back to the younger players. There is great satisfaction in helping others maximize their potential. 

BfF: What is a coach's most important characteristic?
TB: Passion. If you love teaching the sport you coach, the players will feed off of that positive energy. You will also make the commitment to learn as much as possible about the craft. Passion fuels ambition. 

BfF: How much does a coach need to get involved with his teams especially when children's football is concerned?
TB: I would say a youth coach must love teaching and have both the patience and persistence to work with young players. It is very much a labor of love and guiding players to their potential is very much a hands-on endeavor. 

A coach must understand many detailed aspects of each player in order to bring out the best in them and provide the right support at the right moment. At the professional level it may be more about managing teams, but at the youth level is it principally about developing players. 

BfF: Obviously Johan Cruyff had a significant influence on your career.  What made him so special compared to other coaches?
TB: Johan earned immediate respect from every player for what he had accomplished in the game. He was the best of the best on the pitch and those that played with him and those who played against him all attest to that. 

As a coach, I think more than anything else, he had a very clear vision of the football that he loved and was able to transmit that vision onto the pitch via his players. His teams had a clear identity and brought joy to so many football fans worldwide. 

BfF: What are the things that you learned from him that you feel are most important and you think about most frequently?
TB: There is a great distinction I make between Johan as the grandfather of my children and Johan Cruyff the football leader. 

As my father-in-law, Johan enjoyed tremendously those family moments. Morning breakfast, afternoon lunch and family gatherings in general. Family was a priority for him and I think as a father I always want put my children first and honor my role as a patriarch. 

Professionally, I would say that his vision guided him. He had clear ideas and followed them faithfully. In this respect, I hope to work with clarity and use football as a means to develop talented, intelligent and responsible young athletes. That would honor his legacy and be consistent with my own vision of talent development.  

BfF: Contrary to him, you were a good but not great player.  Do you think that this has had an impact on your coaching career?  If so, in what way?
TB: I think there are great coaches who played the game at the highest level and others who have not. I am neither a top flight footballer nor a top flight professional coach so I respect those that are. I think what has influenced my coaching most was the time I spent dedicated to education. 

While it may seem odd, many football coaches have no idea about sound pedagogical practices nor about child development. What I bring to the trade of coaching is a profound commitment to understand the learning process and how that may be applied to coaching football. Any individual, regardless of their background, who has the capacity to inspire others and guide them on a productive and positive journey is, for me, a master coach. 

BfF: You talk a lot about intelligence in football? Is that something innate or can it be coached?
TB: What is innate is the ability and desire to learn. We as human beings all have that. What can be coached is how to tap into that process for the benefit of the learners so that they may realize their full potential. In fact, I would say that our highest priority would be to guide that process effectively and coach the player before us, regardless of their baseline skills. 

Every player can get better. Every single one if we do not dismiss them as incapable of doing so. 

BfF: Why is intelligence important?
TB: Football is not the sam of disparate parts. We cannot break down each technical skill and think that a player will put that together in some coherent manner in a match. We do not process information nor acquire skills that way. Cognition is what we would term "thinking skills" and we can coach this, practice this and perfect this if we prioritize it as coaches and mentors. 

A skill that we cannot apply when needed is useless. 

A skill applied and accompanied with intelligent articulation under real match demands is of great value. Intelligence is the foundation of all excellence - within and beyond the pitch. It is more than important; it is imperative. 

BfF: How can one improve their footballing intelligence?
TB: Train it. If we set training exercises that demand cognitive processing then players will improve their thinking and demonstrate true game intelligence. We develop football intelligence when we train it within each and every exercise we implement during training. If we conduct brainless training drills we cannot expect players to become adept at thinking. If we train the brain as we train the body, we will nurture remarkably talented players. 

Rondos, position play exercises and training games all demand cognitive processing and should become the core of our training plans. 

BfF: Similarly, how do you coach the different aspects of intelligence needed to play in different roles?
TB: Intelligence is not role or position specific. Technical and movement skills are role specific. Let me explain. Every player needs to implement quickly the thinking process which for us at TOVO Academy is broken down into six steps. Perception, conception, decision, deception, execution, and assessment. These six steps are required in every position and in real time. Perfecting this thinking process is of paramount importance for every player in every position. 

Then we can layer on the technical skills a specific player may employ. For example, a keeper must shot block and distribute the ball with both feet while a winger must utilize 1v1 moves and centre the ball effectively. But both positions require the great cognition. For this reason we prioritize intelligent football training.

BfF: You have set up TOVO Academy with the aim of helping amateur players.  What led to this and how do you plan to achieve that ambition?
TB: After having worked with Johan Cruyff for 14 years we learned of his diagnosis of cancer. I sat down with him and we spoke of my ambition to take what I had learned and share it with players and coaches who are not so fortunate to train at professional clubs like Ajax and FC Barcelona. I told him that I was going to do this through TOVO (TOtaal VOetbal). With his blessing we started as his health faltered. 

Unfortunately, he is not here to enjoy the fruits of that labour, but I know he would be proud of our philosophy to develop talented players and capable leaders through our work. We invite ambitious players to train with us in Barcelona and we also go out to clubs worldwide to share our TOVO Training methodology. In this way the reach will be great and players and coaches will be better for it. This is our greatest ambition now. 

BfF: What does the programme involve and how do you think that it differs from other programmes?
TB: TOVO Training is intelligent football training. There are so many technical training programs in the market. However there are very few programs that train intelligence like we do. We offer what we call 3C Model. We train very effectively the cognition, the competence and the character of footballers. 

Our methodology is a research-based practical program that guarantees results. I am not sure there are many programs on the market that can say that. Those that have experienced our training program are the best to speak to it being perhaps the most dynamic, engaging and effective program to develop a total footballer. We are proud of our program as we know it works. That is why we are so keen to share it with more players worldwide. 

BfF: What do you hope to achieve in the future?
TB: TOVO Training will begin to challenge the traditional paradigm of football training and when it does players will become more complete and more creative. We imagine filling TOVO Academy Barcelona with ambitious footballers. And we imagine working with coaches and clubs to implement TOVO Training worldwide.

Reach out to Todd Beane on Twitter and check out the exciting TOVO Academy here.

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