Don’t Stick to a Soccer Dogma for Player Development

Let’s start with the word dogma –  Dogma: a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. For me, it’s hard to take anything as an absolute truth, especially coming from a national soccer federation. I view player development as, one shoe doesn’t fit all, with no clear proven pathway that is guaranteed to produce the next Messi. That being said, I do think that certain training environments improve players. The soccer world is full are all kinds of scientific studies, player development data, training methodologies, licensing programs and much more. As I have mentioned in prior articles, the methodology of tactical periodization makes sense, is well thought out, is widely used around the world, but it is not the only way, or necessarily the best way to train. Tactical periodization was developed in a professors head, it’s great, but it is just one person’s opinion on training. Coaches may enjoy planning out color-coded periodization, illustrating diagrams and working on game model training, but don’t be fooled, none of that matters. How can I say that? Simple. The only thing that matters is what the players experience on the field, and did that experience get them better.

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I was watching a couple sessions from the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew and Toronto FC Academy a few months ago, and it struck me how important each clubs principles of play were to the coaches. In fact one coach thought he was going to fired, because he didn’t relate his session to the clubs principles of play. The clubs treated their principles of play like the holy grail, with each club having their own customized principles of play, one club listed like 12 principles of play for the attack alone! The first thing that came to my mind was, “who cares”. I don’t say that to be arrogant and dismissive, but when I am playing in a game, I can’t name principles of play, nor would I want to. The reality is that top players enter a state of flow when playing, their subconscious mind chunks information together at super-fast speeds, bypassing the conscious mind, this doesn’t come automatically, it is developed over time. These top players have more solutions available to them, and can carry-out these solutions with high-level technique, at speed. I guarantee players are not thinking about their clubs principles of play during a game. I feel mandating the principles of play relate to every training session, is more for the coach and club than the players. If I am coaching a possession oriented style of play, and want the team to work on breaking down a team that sits in a low-block with penetrating balls, maybe I make the rule/constraint that every pass must be below knee height. Now the players have to work the ball, create good supporting angles, look for spaces to penetrate with quality movement and balls to feet. The players do not need to be aware of any principle of play, all they need to do is try to be successful in the environment that was created. Once the players are in that environment for a while, change it, maybe 11v8 with 10 seconds to score in the attacking 1/3, as the defense plays to 4 counter goals at half field. This new environment forces players to look for different passes, that they normally wouldn’t hit in the previous environment. Each environment is important for development, and each improves the game model, without the players even being aware of the principles of play in the exercises. Of course, using video and diagrams in team meetings, can be used to go over the tactical game model, but that is separate from the training ground. It is also another discussion of how information is processed by players, because video and diagrams are not through the same lens, compared to the actual field view of players.

My point is not to say I am right, and don’t use principles of play or tactical periodization, my point is to keep an open mind when coaching. In my opinion the most important part of any training is what the player experiences, not how the coach feels, or what diagrams and color coded stuff is on the coaches clip board.

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