Some players who have benefitted from diverse training experiences are Ronaldinho, Met Ozil, Peter Cech, Neymar and Thierry Henry. I would argue that all these diverse training experiences are incredibly beneficial cognitive soccer experiences. Ronaldinho would often speak about the unique touches on the ball he learned playing beach soccer in Brazil. He mentioned how those unique touches on the ball from beach soccer were subconsciously transferred over when he played on the grass field; other players simply couldn’t understand the types of touches he was taking. Ronaldinho felt that his beach soccer experience provided him with special skills and an 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 that didn’t allow the ball to go out of bounce. Ozil would play against his older brother and friends, who were all faster, stronger, taller and older than he was. Inside the cage, Ozil was forced 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 a unique training environment, it also fits into the category of a constraint based training method, which will be discussed later in the course. The cage was the teacher for Ozil, no coach needed! The cage forced Ozil to come up with solutions to problems at very fast speeds, this is extremely important and relates directly to the 11v11 game. Theirry Henry speaks about playing soccer in parking lots with shopping carts all over the place. He enjoyed the experience because there was strategy involved with playing soccer around shopping carts. Player’s could bounce the ball off the carts or use them to shield off opponents or just as a barrier to create space. The shopping carts made a regular soccer game more complex, making it a cognitive experience. The prolific Brazilian and Barcelona goal-scorer Neymar, credits his futsal experience in-part for his development as a world class player. Neymar says, “Futsal had a massive influence on me when I was growing up. It’s a very demanding game and it really helped to develop my technique, speed of thought, and ability to perform moves in tight spaces. I think futsal is a fundamental part of a footballer’s life. When you’re out there playing, you’re forced to think fast and move faster – if you lose a second, the ball will be gone. It’s a more dynamic game and it’s come in handy at Barcelona. When we play there’s not much space on the pitch so you need to react quickly on the field. There’s no doubt futsal has helped me a lot in my career, it’s one of the biggest passions in my life. I used to love playing it, but unfortunately I had to stop when I was 13 or 14 in order to grow up as a footballer.”
Below is a quote from Peter Cech talking about the innovative methods he uses with his Goalkeeper Coach. This is from an article in the “Daily Uk” newspaper.
“This is the way he works. We try to catch different shape balls, bigger balls or smaller ones because then you need to adapt your hand-eye coordination every time. Suddenly your brain starts working again. You can use colors. Imagine saving the ball but at the same time a card is held up. You save the ball and shout the color – you are concentrating on more things. That makes your peripheral vision better as well. Your brain is working much more than just with a simple catch. He is always searching for new things to bring it further, to be more efficient and try to make things happen for a goalkeeper to progress even at he highest level. I keep using a table tennis robot which shoots ping pong balls out. You have to catch it with one hand so it gives you a completely different hand-eye coordination. Then, when you have both hands facing one football, everything becomes easier.”
Ozil, Ronaldinho, Cech, Neymar and Henry all used non-traditional training methods to help them excel in the eleven aside game, there is no doubt that these player’s “Soccer IQ or Game Intelligence” is very high. I believe their unique training experiences have made the actual 11 v 11 game easier for them, by giving them extra tools or skills that other players do not have, these acquired skills from the unique experiences, allow them to come up with more solutions and have options on the ball at faster speeds then other players. Training in different and unique environments may also allow players to see the game just a little bit differently. Here is a quote from the great Italian center midfielder Pirlo talking about how he sees the game differently, “I have reached one conclusion, though I think I’ve understood that there is a secret. I perceive the game in a different way. It’s a question of viewpoints, of having a wide field of vision being able to see the bigger picture. Your classic midfielder looks downfield and sees the forwards. I’ll focus instead on the space between me and them where I can work the ball through.” Claudio Reyna, the GM of NYCFC, commented about Pirlo, explaining the differences between Pirlo compared to other players in the MLS, “He’s a player who makes it look easy,” claimed Reyna. “We have Andrea (Pirlo) and Frank (Lampard) in midfield at NYCFC and they are a step ahead. The best players are two and three steps ahead of the opponent when they receive the ball and that’s what you have to do at the highest level where there’s limited space and the speed of play is much quicker – you have to think ahead.” Reyna even commented on his own development, crediting a unique playing environment that helped mold him into one of the best players the United States has ever had; “For anyone who remembers those fields, there was dirt, rocks and even glass, it was by far the worst field I ever played on, and I played more games on it than any other field. There was constant soccer there. Sometimes it was a dust bowl, sometimes it was frozen and the ball was bouncing every which way, as difficult as it was, you had to have your head up to play. That and playing with older players all the time developed me at a more rapid pace.” Later in the module, remember what Reyna just said, as it relates to constraint based training, especially environmental constraints.