Is Your Coaching Too Wide Spread & Too Shallow?

Around 25 years ago I remember watching a youth soccer instructional video promotion on ESPN.  Back then it was beyond rare to see a soccer instructional video being sold on TV, so it stuck in my mind.  The coach (a former USMNT Coach) must have shouted out 15 different directions in 16 seconds to a bunch of kids playing 3v3!   I had to laugh watching this silly commercial, I couldn’t even process what the guy was saying, never mind the group of kids processing any of it.  That brings me to the point of this post: Is your coaching too wide spread & too shallow?  What does that mean exactly?  Since I always look at the sport from a “brain perspective” lets look at what we know about the human brain in relation to learning.

The Science: It takes around 15 minutes of exposure to new information for new physical synoptic connections to be made, within 60 minutes those new synoptic connections get stronger and after 6 hours the formation of the connections are complete.  The new learning has certainly taken a foot hold  after 6 hours but it isn’t complete. During the nighttime whatever was learned that day is organized and coded for long-term storage.  The nighttime is  very important because this is the time that all external stimuli is shut down, allowing what was  learned to be imprinted into the brain. It is a fact that the brain needs settling time or down time to process information effectively.

Coaches Practical Advice: Focus on covering less but what you do teach, teach in more depth, also be sure to include time for the information, skills and concepts to be processed by the brain (settling time).  It is better to learn one skill well, then learning ten skills poorly.  Be sure to teach the skills in many different settings, the more the players can train and get meaningful repetitions in diverse environments the better.  No need to overload them with tons of information all at once.  Instead teach the information in small chunks that are part of a larger picture.  Eventually you will connect the small chunks together to create the full skill or concept.  Let the players experience trial and error learning, have them peer-teach each other, provide them with meaningful expert feedback when needed and allow their brains settling time.

I will leave you with a story I like to use when I am speaking about the importance of sleep and the brain.  A doctor was experimenting with a rat in a maze.  He hooked up electrodes to the rat, so every movement the rat made would produced a sound.  If the rat turned right it made a distinct sound, if it turned left it made a different sound, if he went straight another type of sound etc.  When the rat traveled through the maze the doctor could tell what was happening and where the rat was in the maze just by hearing the sounds that were omitted.  One night the doctor was at the office late and heard the rat going through the maze on the speaker system.  He asked his staff who put the rat back in the maze?  They told him the rat wasn’t in the maze, obviously the doctor was perplexed.  He went over and checked for himself, the rat was just as the staff had said, fast asleep in his cage.  However, nobody had taken off the electrodes from the rats head. This was an amazing discovery!  The rat was replaying what he learned during the day in regards to getting through the maze.  The rat was re-enformcing and building lasting connections in the brain during sleep.  What does this have to do with coaching soccer?  For me it simply means that we need to allow time for the brain to process information.  If we focus on a smaller but deeper learning experiences the more our players will retain and get out of training.


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