In order to give feedback to the player or team, I believe we first must take a look at the following areas: Affordances, the Game Model, and invitations.
The first question we must ask ourselves is, do we understand what each player’s affordances are? Affordances can be looked at in two ways. The first way is to look at the players unique technical skill-set, physical ability, and soccer IQ. Let’s view the second part of affordances, as in-game real-time available options for the player. Example: The ultimate goal of the player and team is to score a goal, if this affordance is present, they player should score. But in reality, the majority of affordances when in possession of the ball, relate to the larger strategy of actions that will eventually open-up goal scoring opportunities. If the player has the ball, he or she has a number of affordances (options), these affordances are always changing in the fluid game, some affordances will be opening-up, while others will be disappearing. What we have to remember is that each player is unique, with different abilities to solve problems and create new affordances on the field. In fact, there are athletes with affordances that we can’t even comprehend as coaches. One example in soccer is Messi, the coach nor the opposition can really comprehend what Messi’s affordances are. He can literally create things that nobody had planned for, or thought possible. Another example of special athletic affordances comes from one of the world’s elite rock climbers. When I listened to him explain his climbing method, it was beyond comprehension, like entering a science fiction movie. He spoke about measuring his acceleration in his head when jumping just above the new finger and foot holds, so he would decelerate down into the new holds from above, using this formula in real-time in his brain. I use that example to illustrate just how hard it is to understand all the affordances of different players.
The game model is a structure of how the team plays, and the roles and responsibilities of each player in that structure. We must understand the relationship between the game-model and individual affordances when discussing feedback. Maybe the game model requires the wingers to whip crosses into target forwards, who knock-down the ball for a shot on goal, second ball, or just immediate pressing in the attacking 1/3. However, what if the winger is a great 1v1 player, whose affordances would allow him to beat his defender regularly, setting-up a more dangerous chance to score? At that point, would we change our feedback? Would the coach choose to bend the game-model, or would he/she limit the wingers skilled affordances to stay within the game-model? Maybe the coach lets that particular winger change the game-model, but limits the opposite side winger because of the affordances? Let’s look at Manchester City and Kyle Walker in terms of affordances and the game-model. A couple years ago, Walker played 15 yards inside the sideline in possession, with the center-back, and defensive-center midfielder coming in very close support of him, making his passing options easier and shorter. In my opinion, Pep believed Kyle Walker’s skill-set was limited, his affordances were smaller when in possession, so he tried to hide the weakness, while keeping Kyle in the game for his defensive abilities. Over the years, Kyle was allowed to get wider and overlap down the wing. This is a classic example of the coach changing the game-model to adjust for growing affordances in a player. But imagine how the feedback changed from Pep over the years with Walker.
The other important part to this conversation is the developmental setting. Does the game-model restrict the youth players from exploring other capabilities in their game? Do we let the youth explore much more, and how does that change our feedback as coaches?
If we approach a match with a particular game-model, but invitations are presented by the opponent, allowing for different affordances to be used, do we have the freedom to use them? Did our feedback from training allow our team to take advantage of these new invitations (affordances) that the opponent is showing us? Example: we are a team based on strict positional play, building through the 1/3’s, but we have a big speed advantage as the opponent high-presses us. Do we change our game-model on the spot due to the new invitations, and does the game-model and previous feedback hinder us?
Conclusion on Feedback
I wanted to bring a perspective to feedback that takes into account a larger viewpoint, one that looks at the individual player and their unique affordances, and the relationship of the individual player to the game-model, and how that may affect feedback. I also wanted to mention the possibility that certain players’ affordances may be beyond the coaches comprehension, possibly making feedback that much more difficult.