Create Great Soccer Learning Environments: Don’t Worry About What Your Coaching Course Told You to Do

Go to any professional club or take any FIFA coaching course and you will hear the ideas of “Tactical Periodization” over and over again. Tactical Periodization has revolutionized soccer coaching, providing a clear and detailed way for coaches to train their teams in their own game model. The tactical periodization methodology is intelligent, logical and comprehensive, as every player trains positionally in the game model. I respect the ideas of tactical periodization and use many of them myself. However, what you have to remember is that tactical periodization is simply one man’s ideas and views on soccer, nothing more and nothing less. Vitor Frade is the man that developed “Tactical Periodization”, Frade is considered a soccer theorist and one of the best minds in the game, but it doesn’t mean his way is the only way, the best way or the way everyone needs to coach. Obviously his work is very important with the likes of Sarri, Guardiola, Mourinhou and pretty much every professional club in the world, using the tactical periodization methodology, but I feel it’s important to keep things in perspective. Vitor Frade made up the methodology in his head, so why can’t a coach, team or organization continue to find different, creative and intelligent ways to develop players and teach the game? If a coach doesn’t follow tactical periodization or only follows it slightly, is that coach wrong? I say “not at all”, just make sure you can logically explain your ideas for development. When I hear about the high failure rates and the outrageous prices coaches need to pay to get their coaching licenses, it really makes me question the entire process. I will give you one example from a coaching federation. At one point (or still do) the United States Soccer Federation had a problem with coaches using Rondo’s, because of the lack or game reality, shape and direction of rondos. Of course, I completely disagree with the USSF, and I can list thirty reasons why, but the most compelling reason is simply because I can see the huge improvement in my players, and even myself by using rondos. Without getting into detail, there are unlimited types of rondos a coach can create, you can add direction, goals, change grid shapes, add constraints, add restrictions, make it position specific, use all sorts of different numbers of players, emphasize through balls etc. The main point is that rondo training simply creates a different kind of learning environment. That’s it. If the USSF or any organization doesn’t see value in it, that’s fine by me, but I am not changing, because I know the firsthand value of training rondos every single day. If you do not see the value in rondos that is fine as well, don’t use them, but the issue I have is, when an organization attempts to say a certain method is no good, or only this certain method is right. My intent is not to bash FIFA for allowing the federations to charge outrageous prices to get a top coaching license, but fact that they empower some organizations to take away coaches freedoms and creative thinking,  the consequence of creative thinking can be failing the course, which doesn’t make sense to me.

That leads me to my main point, what constitutes quality coaching that leads to excellent player development? The answer will differ depending on who you ask, but normally that conversation touches on training sessions. Most of the questions I get from coaches, are ones about training sessions. For example: Can you give me your best training sessions for shooting or team possession to develop players? That is an important question for sure, but the question that might be even more important is, what is a training session and how does that fit into player development? My interpretation of a training session focuses more on creating a learning environment. Do you need to start from small numbers, building to larger numbers, and then finish with goals and a game? I say no. Can one larger game be used to create a top learning environment for the entire training session? Yes, in my opinion, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Just decide what it is that your training is going to focus on, then make the environment challenging, and change the environment to allow for different player experiences during the training. Want to develop a players decision making in various situations? Try giving one team 8 seconds to score every time they get possession, while the other team works on ball circulation and keeping possession, as they must keep the ball for a minimum of 15 seconds before they can score. Those two little constraints, create radically different learning environments that help build the players soccer IQ and skillset. There are limitless creative ways to create effective learning environments, but it takes a creative open minded coach. One thing I always recommend, is for coaches to take part in training sessions as a player, see if you get bored, see if the coach is just talking too much and you are struggling to pay attention, is it challenging, do you want to be more involved, do you hardly touch the ball, are you confused with all the directions, did you have to adapt your strategy to be successful, was it just an awesome session and fun experience? To quote a line from the Notorious B.I.G or Biggie Smalls “and if you don’t know, now you know”,  thats the point of experiencing training sessions as a player, it may very well impact you as a coach, very important!

My view on coaching is rather simple, coaching and player development is a never ending journey, whatever method you use,  have a logical reason behind it, borrow from everything you find valuable because there is a lot of smart people that have developed great ways of training, but don’t let people tell you their way is the right way and your way is wrong. This is why I think FIFA should only let federations offer information to coaches about player development and coaching, they should not mandate you follow them, only share the information.

I will end with this, when weight training was taught to me in college, it focused on major muscle groups being worked first, as the smaller muscles were worked second, this was pretty much thought to be the way. A few years later the smaller muscle groups were trained first, preparing the larger muscle groups to be worked even harder. Then higher reps and lower weight done to exhaustion was shown to produce significant hypertrophy of the muscle, dispelling previous thoughts. Now weight training as become more functional in sports, with some NFL Football teams abandoning weights altogether, as they look to increase power and strength in the exact movements used in their sport. The point is, all things change, new methods come around and need to be looked at seriously, but don’t get stuck to only one way, and don’t label one thing as right and another as wrong, look for what you see as valuable and truthful, then figure out how to test it and use it. Remember one the greatest sporting minds of all time, Bruce Lee, who said “Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation”. Bruce Lee was very careful not to define a linear rigid curriculum to becoming an elite martial artist. If there was a magic linear soccer curriculum to becoming Messi, then I would happily pay the federation $50,000 and up to get the magic answer!

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