A New Way to Interpret & Implement Soccers Principles of Play

Training Programs are often designed around ideas, that a coach wants to transfer to players. The ideas are normally related to the game model, and tactical principles of play, which the coach has chosen for the teams identity. This is an example of a global-to-local approach, where the coach is influencing the actions of the players, by providing guidelines from the game model to the tactical principles of play. As a result the players will organize under the global-to-local environment, created by the coach. It is my opinion that the global-to-local or coach to team approach, lacks the flexibility that allows players to take advantage of opportunities, that fall outside of the teams principles of play and game model. The opposite approach of global-to-local is local-to-global, local-to-global is where the player or players are able to self-organized, quickly adapting to take advantage of the unpredictable situations that happen in the real game. When I think of local-to-global, I think of intelligent players with unique skills sets, capable of creating many different solutions, inside and outside of the teams principles of play. Since the game of soccer is fluid, unpredictable and rapidly changing, teams that can adapt and adjust, finding new solutions to problems, even outside of their typical principles of play, will gain an advantage. In reality, there will be a constant interplay between global-to-local and local-to-global organization in the team.


Let’s now take a look at what a tactical principle of play is; I would define it as team goal, that shapes the actions of individuals and the collective team unit, guiding them to find tactical solutions in the game. The ultimate goal of tactics, is to find a way to achieve an end goal; the tactical principles of play should support, and influence the game model. Within the principles of play, each player will have certain affordances available to them, which support the team objectives. However, since every player is different, each player has their own unique skill sets, it is this uniqueness that creates individualized affordances. This is why a flexible game model, combined with flexible principles of play, gives players and teams the freedom to adapt, and find solutions, outside the standard ideas presented by the coach, in the global-to-local format. Perhaps the best teams find a special balance, allowing players to recognize the affordances, while stepping in and out of the principles of play. For example, if Messi has the chance to play a ball wide to the winger in space, but instead he beats two defenders in the middle of the field, and hits a through-ball for the striker to finish, this is an example of the principle of play called penetration, but normally the player would have played the ball wide to the winger into space, using the principle of play called width. The fact that Messi bent the rules, stepped outside the guidelines, and found another solution, which created a new affordance, resulting in the penetrating through-ball and goal. This example is a clear illustration of why it is important to remain flexible, allowing players to self-organize from a local-to-global perspective. Moments like this in a soccer game, can’t be part of some pre-planned game model, or set of principles of play. The Brazilian National Team is an excellent example of local-to-global and global-to-local flexibility within a team. This approach can be seen in everything thing do, including the culture.

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