Football is a game for players

Football is a mind game. You play with your brain.” Johan Cryuff

In an earlier blog we shared the conversation a friend of ours once had with a young player:

Coach: “ so what is your favourite position? ”

Player: “ centre midfield”

Coach: “ Interesting. Is that because you see yourself as a good playmaker? “

Player: “ No its because my dad is one side and my coach is on the other and sometimes if I am in the middle field I can’t hear either of them. “

You have all seen the coach – never stops talking and directs everything taking place:

“ Play Johnnie. Run with it. Take him on. Shoot. Rebound. DROP! DROP! “

We probably shouldn’t have used the term coach since puppet master may be a better description. The scary thing about this though is that it’s incredibly seductive because if the goal is just winning, at a young age, and if the coach knows just enough to be dangerous, it will probably work.

While teams at this point tend to be very disorganized, the organized team with the puppet master pulling all the strings will usually win.

But if your goal is player development, in the long run it’s a disaster. As players get older the game gets faster, spaces become smaller, and pressure becomes much more intense. There simply isn’t time to listen to instructions and react. Only players who can read the game, and can instantly and instinctively react will have any chance of maximizing their potential. Soccer is a player’s game.

A game of soccer has 22 players most of whom are free to go anywhere they want. We can’t do the math but we can tell you that for all practical purposes that creates an almost infinite number of situations. There are no time outs. Soccer can never be thought of as a series of set plays. Because of this soccer is not a coach centric exercise but is inherently player centric. To have any chance of succeeding at higher and older levels players must be able to see game problems and have the ability to formulate their own solutions.

From a training perspective this means:

  • Players must be taught to understand concepts that they can apply to a wide range of situations.
  • Players need to learn to make their own decisions.
  • Players need to feel free to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

The idea of letting the players play with the minimum of interference in matches, far from reducing the role of the coach, actually elevates the responsibility and makes it much more demanding.

If the coach is to perform their job adequately they must become true educators, they must be able to take all the information available and synthesize it into a simplified, progressive curriculum that gradually makes the game clearer for the players.

The game of soccer has changed greatly over the last 25 years. Players are faster and stronger and the move towards zonal systems has reduced time and space. These trends will continue. The current World and European champions, Spain, are unquestionably the finest team at the time of writing. Are they faster than their opponents?


Do they have better technique? They have great technique but then so do many other teams. They are the best team because, as soccer players, they are more intelligent than their opponents. For years Spain has been developing its’ youth on a program of rapid, short passing and constant movement to space and the creation of triangles everywhere on the field.

The result is a generation of players able to observe, decide and execute faster than those from other nations. Others will catch up, they will develop their own styles and strategies; such is the nature of a dynamic, competitive system.

But only those countries that emphasize intelligence and decision-making in their players will progress. Programs that continue to see soccer as an athletic contest where the team that runs fastest and longest will win are destined to languish in mediocrity.

What appears to differentiate the best from the rest is their ability to make quick accurate decisions, to see the field, to anticipate: in short, their ability to think their way through a soccer game. And that presents a challenge and an opportunity to all coaches!!

“Speed is often confused with insight. When I start running earlier than the others, I appear faster.” Johan Cruyff


Originally seen at CoachHQ on facebook