Soccer Smart Online Cognitive Soccer Instructors Course:

Soccer Smart Cognitive Online Soccer Instructors Course: Sample Content

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Developing a player’s ability to process information rapidly, decide upon an appropriate action, execute the action and then evaluate the outcome of the action in order to make future decisions based upon the success or failure of the action is all part of cognitive development in sports. Making intelligent fast decisions with the ability to execute them, while taking in all the outside factors and disregarding all the non-essential information is one of the major goals of this cognitive soccer training. There is so much scientific and soccer training information presented in this course, I do not want the real message or ideas of the course to get diluted or lost. Please remember these five important factors when applying the cognitive soccer training methods. First, soccer is a team sport and every member must be a humble hard working member of the team. When the team trains it depends on the focus of all individuals to make the group better. The exercises will break down if all the players are not working together, just like the real game. Second, autonomous learning, minimally invasive learning or player centered learning are all very similar important modern coaching concepts; the old school model where the coach is the dictator that yells and talks down to players is finished, we are smarter people than that now. The modern coach is a facilitator of quality information, a true leader and respected mentor to the players. The coach is there to guide players not scare them into being better (which won’t happen). The third important factor in cognitive soccer development is the importance of teaching a cognitive centered lifestyle outside of soccer. This means developing well-rounded individuals who develop their brains off the field by playing music, reading books, focusing on academics, writing poetry, programming computers, learning art, asking philosophical questions and making an effort to learn about other cultures. These things will not only increase the brains plasticity and ability to learn it will make for more well rounded individuals. Fourth, ethics, respect & sportsmanship must be taught and seen as an important part of the program. There is no room in sport for “me, me me” or “lack of respect for any human being”. Lastly, players & coaches should look at the learning environment (training ground) as a place to be excited and feel empowered to learn and teach in. Learning and getting better should be a passion shared by all. Players should not feel scared or embarrassed about failure – they should feel comfortable taking chances, learning, creating and asking questions – regardless of the outcome! Cognitive soccer development is really a holistic approach to coaching soccer and living life. The connection between the two things can’t be ignored. If we can produce great soccer players “awesome”, but if we can produce great soccer players and great people together than it’s a total success. Enjoy the course and feel free to get back to me with all your questions. I am sure you will have a lot, because the information in the course will challenge many of the conventional coaching methods most of us have been exposed to growing up.


Soccer Cognitive Development 101

Before getting into how the brain works while playing soccer, it is important to grasp a general understanding of cognitive development and the human brain. The definition of cognition dates back to the 15th century meaning “thinking and awareness”. Cognition is essentially the “processing of information”.   This includes things like calculating, reasoning, problem solving and decision-making. The processes of cognition are handled in the brain. Fields like neuropsychology and cognitive science study these processes in detail. When I mention developing a player’s cognitive soccer ability, I literally mean developing the player’s ability to make better and quicker decisions, utilizing and recognizing important information while discarding the irrelevant information, gaining the ability to chunk information together quickly in order to make split second decisions, having the ability to consistently judge space and time correctly on the field, being able read cues in order to anticipate and problem solve on the field while creating an overall more intelligent athlete. The end result of the team cognitive training will be a better overall team and individual performance on the field. Individually players will see the benefits of cognitive training in their ability to concentrate, learn, focus and problem solve, not just on the field but in other areas outside of soccer as well. The player’s mental bandwidth or ability to learn & concentrate on multiple things with efficiency will be increased. Players should begin to train better in practice after they are exposed to the cognitive training. There is also a clear and proven transfer of intelligence that will happen when players are involved in cognitive training. When a person increases their cognitive ability in one area, it will transfer to other areas. Players literally become better all-around learners across the board, which parents and teachers will be more than pleased to hear. This is why I stress the importance of implementing a well-rounded curriculum off the field for players cognitive development needs. It is vital that the brain continue to be challenged when not playing soccer. The curriculum can include a variety of different activities (discussed later in the manual), which will increase brain plasticity.

To fully understand the “transfer of intelligence” we need to look at the make-up of intelligence. Intelligence is defined in two separate ways, crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use information, skills and knowledge to score well on standardized test. This type of knowledge represents your lifetime of cerebral knowledge. Games like Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit test a person’s crystallized intelligence. Crystallized intelligence will not help players on the soccer field in terms of decision-making and problem solving. However, the second type of intelligence called “Fluid Intelligence” will help players in their soccer developmental process. Fluid intelligence is the ability to think logically, learn new skills and then use the knowledge gained as a platform to solve nonrelated new problems or learn new skills. The fact that fluid intelligence can be transferred and used in other related and unrelated tasks is a major break though as well. The other positive with fluid intelligence is that it can be trained and increased. The more you train your fluid intelligence the more progress and overall cognitive development increases. Increasing fluid intelligence can literally make people smarter in all areas of their lives. When humans are actively training their brain and learning they are creating new synaptic connections. These connections build on each other, creating increased neural activity and more connections. As this happens, learning is happening.   The term neural plasticity refers to the number of connections between the neurons in the brain. An increase in plasticity will enhance a person’s ability to learn and retain knowledge. Cognitive soccer training combined with a cognitive centered lifestyle will increase a person’s fluid intelligence level. Increasing fluid intelligence is like hard wiring a persons brain for success by building efficient neurological pathways. Elite soccer players are proven to be some of the best problem solvers on and off the field. High-level soccer players even test in the top percentiles on written tests that have nothing to do with soccer compared to non-elite players and the general public. A study in Europe recently showed top goal scorers were better problem solvers than most of their teammates. That fact alone indicates that soccer is much more of a cognitive sport than most people think. Think about this statement: “top players come up with more solutions to problems and quicker solutions to problems on the field then average players”. Top players also have superior technical ability that allows them to execute skills at high rates of speed, making their problem solving and advanced anticipation skills even more effective. Lower level players are slower in the entire process of problem solving and executing their technical skills. Lower level players often get stuck in the process of problem solving and executing while elite players will be able to come up with solutions instantly.

Grid Cell & Bayesian Inference Theory

“How The Soccer Brain Works”

The “Grid Cell” and “Bayesian Inference” theories go a long way in explaining how the brain benefits from cognitive soccer training.

The Bayesian Inference Theory

Data or Sensory Input (example: data/sensory input gained from a person would be from their vision) + Prior Knowledge (memory/what a person remembers from past experiences) + External Factors (things like wind or an opponent using his force/body against you) = Prediction of the Future

Lets look at an example of the theory in action! “A tennis player has to return a shot”. The opponent hits the ball and the returning player will need to judge where the ball where land and how it will bounce in order to return the shot using sensory data (vision). The player will also draw upon past experiences in order to help predict where the ball where bounce or land. Past experiences will help to answer questions like where did most of the similar type of prior shots land that were like this shot? The last step in the process would be for the brain to factor in all the external factors. These would be things like the direction and force of the wind. From this example you can see that the brain must be well trained in order to come up with split second accurate decisions that factor in all these variables. There is very little time to think in these situations, so players must be well rehearsed/trained in game like environments if they hope to be successful. Top-level tennis players will also pick up on indicators that lower level players would not. The top players can sub-consciously read and gain predictive information by observing the opponents grip, hip position and shoulder position before they even hit the ball, while the lower level player might be solely be focused on racquet speed and racquet position. The top-level player will be able to recognize patterns quicker and as a result anticipate and react much faster than the lower level player. Research indicates that information usage may or may not be related to performers’ visual search patterns. The one of the differences between expert and novice may be in respect to the location, distribution and duration of eye movements. The expert over time has gained the experience and knowledge of where and what to focus on visually.   The Bayesian Inference Theory helps us understand how the brain actually works in sports specific situations – combining sensory input/data, drawing on past experience and adding in external factors all in a split second to make a decision.

The next very important way the brain works in relation to sports specific training is through something called a “Grid Cell”. In 2010, scientists discovered that like rodents, the human brain has what they refer to as “grid cells”, brain cells which help us to keep track of our location relative to other nearby objects when navigating new or unfamiliar environments. Grid cells get their name from the triangular grid pattern they appear to use to represent spatial location. In many ways, this scientific theory helps to explain the decision making process of soccer players. The theory explains that a player will typically see hundreds of choices in 5-10 seconds of a game and will need to rely on the grid cells in the brain to organize it all.  The grid cells literally map out a defined grid for the player to use as points of reference in the brain.   Combined with past spatial experiences, these points of reference are used to make split second decisions in games. The more meaningful and diverse experiences players have the more reference points they will be able to access. However, there are other factors that will need to be considered and be processed into the equation as well – much like the Bayesian Theory. These external factors include things like, where is the play located (attacking third, middle third or defensive third), what external factors are influencing the game (up a goal, down a goal, up a man, down a man & time left in the game), home crowd, is it a must win situation and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the other players on the field? Players must be able to process all these variables quickly in order to make quality decisions. Looking at the game from a cognitive processing perspective begins to shed light on how difficult it actually is to play soccer at a high-level. The more diverse and challenging soccer training a player receives, the more developed the players grid cells will become. Later in the manual I will discuss the use of grids and visual cues in order to enhance the players ability to be spatially aware while becoming familiar with movement, timing, angles and speed. These factors are important components of all cognitive training sessions.

Some players who have benefitted from diverse training experiences are Ronaldinho and Met Ozil. Ronaldinho would often speak about the unique touches on the ball he learned playing beach soccer in Brazil. He mentioned how the touches on the ball he took on the beach were subconsciously transferred when he played on a grass field. Ronaldinho felt that his beach soccer experience provided him with a unique advantage over other players who never played beach soccer. Similarly, Met Ozil credits part of his development to “playing in the cage” at a young age in Germany.  The cage was a small, enclosed hard surface surrounded by a tall metal fence. He played against his older brother and his friends, who were all faster and stronger than he was at the time. Inside the cage, Ozil would have to out think the other players, because of the lack of space in the cage and the greater speed of the other players. The cage is a great example of having cognitive training in a unique training environment. The cage was the teacher for Ozil. It forced him to come up with solutions at very fast speeds. Both Ozil and Ronaldinho used non-traditional training methods to help them excel in the 11 aside game. There is no doubt that Met Ozil and Ronaldinho’s “Soccer IQ or Game Intelligence” is very high. This is based upon their improved ability to process meaningful information (while instantly filtering out non-essential information) faster than other players. Great players are able to come up with more solutions/options on the ball at faster speeds then lower level players. They are able to do this in part because of their unique training environment and experiences. The two players also possess a very high technical skill level, which allows them to play as fast as they think. Players who do not possess a high level of technical ability on the ball will be rendered ineffective in the game. In order to make use of “Game Intelligence” players must have the technical ability in order to execute actions skillfully and fast. Another major factor in determining a player’s game intelligence and overall ability level is their vision. If a player is not frequently scanning the field for current information, he will not be aware enough to think quickly. In order to think quickly and make good decisions the player must know what is happening around him at all times. Lampard, Xavi, Messi, Ozil and many more have developed excellent scanning habits. Watch them off the ball and you will be surprised by how often they are scanning (head on a swivel). However, vision and scanning only work with the use of proper technique. The ability to receive passes side on with the correct timing, speed, movement and technique is not an easy skill to master. The modern game of soccer is getting faster and faster. If players can’t find ways to save seconds on the ball all over the field, they will miss chances to penetrate and score and ultimately give away the ball. Example – if a player checks over his shoulder, realizes there is room between himself and the defender, receives the ball ½ turned based upon his scanning of the field – he has saved himself a full second or two compared to not being half-turned and having to complete a full turn. The receiving player who is ½ turned has now increased his forward vision as well, putting himself in a position to play forward positive balls to depth. All of these concepts tie into each other and are inter-related. Scanning, good technique, problem solving, spatial awareness and understanding speed-angles-movement-timing all play a role in the making of high level soccer players.