The typical coaching session goes something like this…the player, unit or team makes an error, poor-decision, or series of actions that result in an unfavorable outcome. The coach stops the training, points out the error, demonstrates the solution, and re-starts the play with the solution being carried out. This is the way I was coached, this was the way I was trained to coach, and this is the path I traveled for a long time. But my experiences over the last decade has convinced me to jump off that normal accepted path.
Let’s start by revisiting a past article I wrote about the 2019 MLS Cup Final. Seattle gave up two goals in the final to the back-post, people would probably attribute the goal to a breakdown in the back four and center-midfield. I’m willing to bet Seattle had practiced unit & team defending every week, for the entire season, using some sort of standard defensive training routine. If that game was not the MLS Final, the coach would most likely run defensive training exercises the following week, in-order to improve the teams defending. The reason would be simple, they gave-up two bad goals, so logically they need to improve their defending. The exercises would most likely be the same exercises they did all season long. However in my past article, I offered a much different prescription for improving the team. I looked at Seattle’s breakdown as a lack of soccer intelligence, players focusing on the wrong cues (eyes were focused on the winger with the ball), lack of scanning by the right center back, the advanced aggressive position of the right back when team was vulnerable to the counter, and the defensive center midfielders lack of anticipation is actually what led to the goals in my opinion. I am willing to bet that the defensive team training that Seattle was doing, were not activating the brain anymore, the sessions were probably rendered close to meaningless over time. My suggestion was to play the CB as a center midfielder in 7v7 games once a week over the next couple of weeks to increase his scanning, let the right back play center back so he can perceive the right back position from a different perspective, and also let the defensive center midfielder play center back to perceive different. I understand these are unconventional methods, but they are meaningful methods for increasing soccer intelligence, and in-return improving team defending.
Now let’s take this a step further. Instead of attempting to fix the problem right away in the next training session, try amplifying the problem. That’s right, amplify the problem bigger and more profound! Seattle’s players will learn more if they amplify what went wrong in the game. Let me give you a concrete example of how I would do this; first I grid out the field, requiring the team to shift into certain lanes when the ball is out-wide ( this where the goals originated from in game), the grids lanes would force the team to completely “over-shift” (amplifying the problem), leaving large amounts of space at the back-post for the opponent to exploit and score. You don’t need to even explain to the players what is happening, just let them explore the exercise and the amplification of the defensive issue, maybe insert some variations to continue to amplify the problem. Then without telling the team, take away the constraints that amplified the problem, and allow them to self-organize in-order to fix the situation, and ultimately defend better. This experience will almost be a contradiction to the brain, but it will enhance learning.
It is important to remember that the same does not engage the brain, the same thing over and over again is not efficient for enhancing learning. This is why older athletes struggle more when they are put through the same experiences, over and over again. You don’t have to radically change everything, but try adding some new variations to activate the brain. Essentially altering the environment will release the chemical called dopamine; dopamine is created by novelty, adding something new, using variation, and inserting some changes. So I ask you, are you doing the same defensive training routine for months and months on end? Maybe it’s time to jump off the path you have been walking down, and explore a new path? Challenge the brain, develop the player.