Presentation on Cognitive Soccer Training Methods for Supplemental Trainers

Supplemental Trainers Presentation

Cognitive, Constraint and Restricted Sense Training Methods

Classroom & Field Sessions

August 2nd2019

Albany, NY

Marcus DiBernardo

(the below information is part of my presentation being delivered at the Supplemental Soccer Trainers Conference – I will be posting some video from workshop later this summer on the blog)

Training the Soccer Brain for Supplemental Trainers

The Next Future of Soccer Player Development

Ecological Validity:the ability to simulate training with the same features as the real world environment, particularly the same perceptual features. A growing body of research tells us that for many types of training it’s better and often critical to train with ecological validity if we ever hope to see real world impact.

My Opinion: there are still benefits to training that is not exact to the game day circumstances. I recommend training a variety which includes a large amount of variations closely related to ecological validity.

Repetition Learning:The value of repetition learning can be traced back as far as Aristotle where he cites, “it is frequent repetition that produces a natural tendency” and “the more frequently two things are experienced together, the more likely it will be that the experience or recall of one will stimulate the recall of the other.”

My Opinion:Repetition learning or rote learning is effective for the initial stage of learning a new skill, after the initial stages the training needs to focus on executing the skill in an ever changing environments. However, skills like free kicks that are executed in pre-set non-changing settings, can be trained in a rote-learning way with outside pressures added to try an alter the players repetition.

Transfer of Intelligence & Skill:Chen & Mo (2004) trained participants to solve arithmetic word problems sharing a common general principle. When semantic details of the training examples were varied, participants were better able to transfer the principle to novel problems with the same underlying structure but different semantic details. In a recent studyit’s suggested that one possible training approach is to begin with similar examples, and later switch to varied examples, on the grounds that initial study of similar examples could create the prior knowledge needed in order for greater variation of later exemplars to create the training benefit desired.

My Opinion: Transfer of intelligence and the adaption of skill sets can happen seamlessly from one situation to another. Example, futsal to soccer.

Virtual Reality is the Next Big Thing: For many current training methodologies, it’s simply too resource intensive to create a substantial number of examples meant to teach concepts that we know produce better generalizability to real-world performance. With VR, it’s possible to have huge numbers of varying examples that can be easily deployed in training.

My Opinion:Soccer IQ, Game Intelligence, Decision-Making can be increased dramatically using VR. It is the future of training the sports brain. Many professional teams are actively working on this technology for player development.

Brain Training with littleEcological Validity: This type of training is still proven to have benefits, increasing neuroplasticity, which increases learning ability, attention capacity, emotional control, focus, concentration, mental bandwidth and much more. 

My Opinion:Overload training can accomplish this in the area of supplemental training.

Easy Ways to Train the Soccer Brain for Supplemental Trainers

Visualization combined with physical repetitions

I was exposed to the idea of using visualization when listening to a famous professional golfer named Lee Trevino. Trevino had been hit by lightning during his career and physically never recovered fully. He was no longer able to spend four hours a day on practice range; he physically could not do it anymore. Lee decided to try another way of training because of his physical limitations. He ended up using visualization techniques to replace a major part of his physical practice. Trevino would now do much of his practicing in his brain, visualizing the perfect swing and really feeling that sensation resonate through his entire body as he visualized shot after shot. I have no doubt that Trevino was building neural pathways and hardwiring his body and brain by visualizing the perfect golf swing without physically practicing. Trevino would go on to play golf successfully for many years after being hit by the lightening and his visualization training was a major reason why. Scientific studies show that during visualization training the brain is stimulated and the neurons fire in the same way as if the person was performing the actual physical task. This piece of data validates the impact that visualization training can have.

A group of people who were not dart throwers were split into three groups and given 8 weeks to improve at throwing darts. All the groups were tested first to get a base line score. Group one did no dart throwing and just came back 8 weeks later. Group two played darts 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks. Group three played darts 3 days a week and used visualization 2 days a week. Group one showed no improvement, not a surprise. Group two went up to improve by 65 points total, but the real story was group three. Group three improved a massive 165+ points. These results clearly indicate that physical training combined with visualization training produce the best results.

Supplemental trainers can do this using video from game situations, very effective and specific. Accompany training with visualization training, during and after the training.

Overload Training to Increase Neuro-plasticity

The Principle of “Overload” is very important when training the brain and the body together. Start exercises out simple and then add layers, conditions and variables to make them more difficult and complex. By adding complexity to the training it will challenge the players brain. Players will find themselves in new situations with new problems to solve, which will enhance learning. When complexity is built up in a drill, it will require players to process more and more information, this is what creates overloads.

In order for the brain to continually be learning it needs to be challenged. The hard part is that the brain is very efficient and adapts to challenges quickly. Efficiency is not conducive to cognitive growth and leads to a decrease in dopamine production by the brain. In order to stay in that sweet spot of learning for skill acquisition, training needs to be challenging incorporating many variations. If coaches have players perform the same drill every day without any change, the benefit of the drill will be far less compared to if the drill was slightly altered. There is no question that boredom stifles learning. Changing the variables and conditions on a consistent basis will challenge the brain, require adaption and encourage development.

Overload Training:The complexity of overload training builds the executive higher-level functions of the brain.  Players must always be focused and “in the moment”, keeping track of multiple tasks if they are to be successful in overload training. Build the exercises up from simple to complex, then at the end of training remove all the overload demands, allowing free play.  The players will notice the difference, as regular free play without overloads will seem simpler and much easier.  When doing overload training, be sure to always be changing the exercises slightly as well.  Varying the training will produce dopamine in the brain, which aids in learning.   Dopamine = sweet spot for learning.

Here are a few excerpts from a story written by Raphael Honigstein for the Guardian Newspaper on April 7th, 2016.  The article focuses on “Overload Training” from the highly successful Mainz and Dortmund Coach Thomas Tuchel.

“Tuchel, who puts out every cone himself, has his players practicing on slippery, extremely narrow or extremely wide pitches, makes them control the ball with their knees before passes and instructs defenders to hold on to tennis balls to stop them pulling the shirts of opponents. The aim is to make training so complex and mentally demanding that the game feels relaxing by contrast. “At first, we wondered what these things had to do with football but we realized quickly that they worked,” said Neven Subotic. “Some exercises last two and a half hours. But because they always change, it doesn’t feel like that”.

“We had to come up with ideas because we knew we were inferior as a team.” Doing things differently included cutting corners: Tuchel forced his team to make diagonal runs towards goal, not play down the line, by changing the training pitch to a diamond shape.

Tuchel versed himself in the teachings of Professor Wolfgang Schöllhorn who developed the sport scientist’s theory of “differential learning” which contends that players do not learn by repetition and perfecting drills, but by adapting their technique, intuitively, to a never-ending stream of problems.  At the turn of the century, Schöllhorn’s ideas were adopted by the Barcelona youth coach Paco Seirullo, who later became Guardiola’s mentor.

Tuchel’s comments have cognitive soccer development written all over them!  By keeping his training sessions engaging, always changing and adding overloads and complexity to them; Tuchel is increasing his player’s attention spans, building their concentration + focus levels, raising their Soccer IQ’s, helping them become better problem solvers and ultimately making them overall superior learners and players.

Constraint Based Training & Restricted Sense Training

Theory Behind Constraints Based Training

The definition of a constraint is, “the introduction or natural occurrence of something that creates a boundary or limit, which make some actions possible, and leaves other actions up to the learner to explore”.  Constraints can be classified as individual constraints (body size, fitness, strength, speed, aerobic capacity, cognitive ability, concentration, focus, motivation, emotional control, decision making ability and personality factors), environmental constraints(physical and social factors. Physical – light, temperature, terrain, auditory feedback.  Social – constraints based on cultural norms) and task constraints(factors closely related to performance in sport like bats, racquets, pitch sizes, number of players, rules of the game or instructions by coaches).  The interaction between the constraints and the player will lead to specific skill development over time.  The longer the time frame and the more a player trains with constraints, will determine the skills that emerge over time.

To get a better understanding of constraints based training specific to soccer, it is important to examine some specific soccer constraint examples.  Growing up I was never the fastest player, in-order for me to play at a high level I was forced to adapt my game in-order to be successful. My “individual constraint” was my lack of speed, this constraint wasn’t put in a place by a coach, it was my own genetics.  However, being slower made me notice that the faster players often only used their speed to succeed, they were never forced to develop the ball skills or problem solving abilities that I was forced to develop.  How many times did I say to myself, “if I had the speed of that kid, I would be a pro!”, deep down I knew that some of the athletically gifted players would have benefited immensely by training in environments that placed constraints on speed, forcing them to find alternative solutions that did not involve speed.  What types of constraints can a coach implement that will limit speed or the advantage of speed, forcing alternative skills to be developed?  The coach can start by using task constraints, some examples would be, reducing the field size, using small-sided games that limit space, using touch restrictions, restricting forward passing options, creating number overloads or requiring players to use equipment that reduces physical speed.  An environmental constraint on speed might be playing beach soccer or letting the grass grow long, to decrease the speed that the ball travels, speed is not as useful if the ball travels slowly!  Those are some basic examples of how a coach might use constraints to give a fast player a unique learning experience, that will force the development of skills they otherwise would not be developing.

Theory Behind Restricted Sense Based Training 

“Restricted Sense Based Training” focuses on restricting the auditory and visual information that a player receives, forcing the player to adapt and develop new or enhancing existing skills, in order to overcome the loss of auditory and visual information. Restrictive sense training does require some basic equipment, and a commitment to long term use of the training aids.  The training equipment consists of a variety of specialized vision restrictive goggles and earphones or ear plugs that restrict hearing.  You may be asking the question, why would restricting vision and hearing be good for player development?  The answers are clear but the theory behind the training will take some explaining.

As a review behind the theory of “Restricted Sense Based Training” from a sports neurology perspective, during competition an athlete must make split-second decisions based upon the current information they receive from their eyes (vision), they must instantly couple this information together to create a real-time picture in their brain, using this picture the athlete must immediately decide what is the best action to execute, once the athlete executes the action, they must determine if the action was successful or not, as this will affect the decision making process of future actions.  The use of auditory information from hearing will play an important supplemental role in the athlete’s decision making process, as hearing is a valuable source of additional information, accompanying vision.

The reality of modern soccer is that the speed of the game is increasing, this means to be successful, the player of the future will need to be able to play in tight areas, under immense pressure at high speeds. Becoming a high level player requires the processing of information at extremely fast rates, with the ability to find solutions to problems on the field instantly.  As previously mentioned, lower level players often get stuck processing information too slowly, by the time they decide on an action, it is too late, while higher-level players process the information without hesitation, never stopping or delaying.

Let me end with an example of one of the world’s most promising professional tennis prospects.  The young man is deaf and most top coaches never thought he would ever be able to play at the highest level of tennis, because the professional game is too fast. In order to keep up with a ball that is traveling in excess of 100 miles per/hour at times, pro tennis players rely on picking up the sound of the ball as it hits the opponents racquet, this provides them with predictive information about what type of shot was hit (velocity and spin), and is the first bit of predictive information they receive, even before visual cues.  Without this important auditory information, it was thought that a player would be at a severe disadvantage and hinder their ability to compete at the highest level of tennis.  However, this young deaf player is able to pick-up different cues and predictive information that supplement for his loss of hearing.  What actually happened is, this player enhanced and improved his other senses so significantly through long-term training while being deaf, he doesn’t need auditory information anymore to play tennis, his brain has learned to pick up different cues and to solve problems differently, then people who can hear. That example really sums up the potential benefits of constraint and restricted sense training methods

Positive Affirmations & Self-Talk

Programing of the subconscious mind for success.

The use of repeating words, chanting and singing to re-enforce a message and or belief is nothing new.  Think about religious prayer, Buddhist chanting, singing the national anthem, singing or chanting your favorite soccer team’s songs or even the pledge of allegiance in America!  All these things in one way or another affirm a belief.  A good example of a positive affirmation is to punch and then repeat out loud “I am strong”.   By doing this you are empowering yourself and programing your sub-conscious mind to think and believe “Hey I really am strong”.  Your sub-conscious mind can hardwire that belief in your brain even when you don’t realize it.  I recommend trying this technique with your players.  Example: Have your striker say “I am a goal scorer” in shooting practice after every strike of the ball.  Defenders can say “I am an intelligent and focused defender”.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to how you can use this as a soccer coach.  The use of positive affirmations is proven to increase cognitive function, sports is all about confidence and self-belief, so don’t overlook the affirmations!

Use of Internal & External Cueing

Cueing can be classified as either external or internal.  Internal cueing is when the athlete focuses on their body parts and how they move in relation to the task or objective.  An example of internal cueing would be to focus on keeping your ankle locked and toe up when performing a football push pass with the inside of the foot.  External cueing is when the athlete focuses on the outcome of the movement or action, but not on the movement itself.  An example of external cueing would be to focus on the outcome of the football push pass itself and not the specific technique, did the pass hit the designated target?  External cueing is proven to increase athletic performance results compared to internal cueing, but internal cueing still serves in an important purpose in the learning of new skills. The researcher Gabriele Wulf, considered an expert in external and internal attentional focus, came up with the ‘constrained action hypothesis’ to explain the factors behind external and internal attentional focus.  “Wulf et al. (17) defined the hypothesis, stating that focusing on body movements (i.e. internal) increases consciousness and ‘constrains the motor system by interfering with automatic motor control process that would ‘normally’ regulate the movement,’ and therefore by focusing on the movement outcome (i.e., external) allows the ‘motor system to more naturally self-organize, unconstrained by the interference caused by conscious control attempts.’” (Wulf 2007). An internalfocus occurs when the athlete is thinking about one of their own body parts or one of their specific movements during execution of a movement task. An externalfocus of attention occurs when the athletes thinks about the effectof their movement while executing a performance. Internalrefers to the performer’s body part movements and external refers to the movement’s effect.”  Wulf’s research tells us that athletic performance is enhanced with the use of external cues, so the next logical step is to integrate external cueing into football training sessions. When using external cueing it is important to have players carry out exercises using variations as well, left to right, right to left, 1 ball, 2 balls, concentric and eccentric movements, in too out and out too in.

Role of BDNF

BDNF is very important in the learning process in terms of transferring learned skills into the long-term memory. Increased BDNF levels are proven to increase learning potential. The optimal learning environment for learning new skills that can be transferred to the long-term memory is when learning (training a new skill in soccer) is performed at lower intensity levels, below 70% of the Maximum Heart Rate and is discontinuous in nature. It is proven that learning complex things while working at physically high intensity levels above 70% MHR is less effective. The best way to make use of BDNF is by learning skills at below 70% MRH or right after higher intensity bursts of exercise. The next time you are running a practice session that is teaching a new technique or concept, remember the 70% maximum heart rate rule and the role of dopamine and BDNF. Teaching technique also requires ample processing time or settling time, down time, time to reflect, to be still and shouldn’t be treated as a cardio workout. Instead, running technical training sessions that focus on teaching a new skill should be at a slower pace, so players can really dissect the technique at slower speeds. Trainings can be at a higher intensity levels if the players are training skills they are already proficient in.

Flow, Mindfulness and Being Present

When athletes are in flow they are not focused on winning or losing, tricking the opponent, impressing spectators and they don’t feel pressure. An athlete in flow is in a state of total concentration living in the moment itself. A famous skateboarder commented on flow saying “All I can tell you is what I already told you: When I’m pushing the edge, skating beyond my abilities, it’s always a meditation in the zone or flow.” In high-risk sports in situations where the smallest error can mean death, then perfection is the only way to survive and flow is the only option. These adventure “Red Bull & X-Game” types of athletes in life-threatening conditions of giant waves, dangerous rivers, and huge- mountains rely on flow for their survival. Without it they would not live. These high-risk types of activities that match superior skill levels along with complex challenges produce flow at the highest level. There is no room to lose concentration. I personally believe flow is about training, skill development, facing complex challenges and being able to experience only what’s in the current moment. Mindfulness training that focuses on breathing and being in the moment can help people in their pursuit of flow.In athletics there are many things that can distract and sidetrack the athletes focus and performance. Remember that performance follows the mind – always. Mindfulness meditation will help calm the mind and put the athlete in a state ready to experience flow. The connection between high-level performances and an athlete’s ability to focus with great attention, correlate directly. You should start to see the same message re-appear throughout this course, in order to be a successful athlete and person, you must be become an attentive and disciplined learner.

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