Cognitive Soccer Coaching: Build A Foundation First

The foundation of cognitive soccer training is built upon developing focus, attention, emotional control and teamwork.  You will often hear me talk about building attention capacity, mental bandwidth and cognitive readiness.  These terms are all inter-related and form the building blocks of cognitive soccer player development.  We live in a time where the average person does not concentrate on one task for more than 3 minutes straight for the entire day.  Welcome to the era of smart phones, text messages, instant messaging, video chat, snapchat, email, instant gratification, online purchasing, apps, streaming video, Facebook and much more.  If the average attention span is now 3 minutes, how can we expect players to fully concentrate for 90 minutes or longer during a match or training?  Who is teaching the next generation the important skills of attention, concentration, focus, problem-solving, teamwork and emotional control?


I have plenty of firsthand experience teaching cognitive readiness, attention capacity, emotional control, focus and mental bandwidth; As a former physical education teacher who had to teach classes as large as 100 students with just one assistant in NYC, the first thing you learn is how to organize and manage your class and classroom environment.  If you fail to implement effective classroom management techniques and struggle to create a safe and positive learning environment, forget about teaching anything, it won’t happen.  An important concept in cognitive soccer is called “Overload Training”, which is essentially building an exercise from simple to complex.  The player may start off with one task and by the end, he or she may be asked to perform three or four tasks; without focus, attention capacity, cognitive readiness, emotional control and the ability to successfully operate within a group, the player will never be successful in overload training.  Let me give you some simple examples that are very basic when it comes to building attention capacity, focus, concentration, cognitive readiness, teamwork and emotional control.   When players arrive at training call them all in.  Do not have them stand around you with soccer balls in their hands in a “big swarm”.  Instead,  give them detailed instructions. 1) Please place your toes on the white line 2) place hands down to your side 3) make sure you are an arm’s length away from the players next to you 4) place your soccer ball on the ground directly in front of you and do not touch it.  These are simple detailed instructions that should be delivered using a tone that will cognitively organize the information for the players as you speak, do not speak in a monotone voice.  Have a clear up in tone and decrease in tone, so the content of the instructions can be cognitively organized for the players.  Monotone instructions actually become hypnotic and players end up processing nothing.  If the players lack basic listening and focusing skills, you may have to break things down even further.  Maybe, you place 20 cones out, organized into four lines of five cones each and instruct players to each stand in “back” of a cone and then build it up from there.  It sounds very basic but “structure” is needed in order to build cognitive qualities.  Fast forward to a group of players who enter training properly dressed, their training bag is well prepared, each player has already thought about what they need to work on to improve, visualization has been done, a short breathing exercise has been completed, positive affirmations stated and every player has made the effort to greet their teammates and coaches in a respectful manner.  Compare that to a player who has not thought about training, might not have brought the right gear, ate a poor lunch, didn’t consider hydration, stayed quiet, possibly arrived late and is thinking about an argument he had with his girlfriend.  Who is ready to train, play, problem solve, process information and create positive relationships better?  Cognitive soccer is not contained to just a fancy drill with color coded flash cards that encourage problem-solving, cognitive soccer is a lifestyle and way of training.  Smarter players are not just smarter on the field, they are smarter off the field as well, their ability is a reflection of total personal development and soccer immersion. Build the foundation first!

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