Why Football Coaches Need to Stay in Love with Rondos & Variability

I came across some great research this past week by Karl Marius Aksum, a football coach from Norway. Karl was also featured on one of my favorite Podcasts with Rob Gray called, “The Perception-Action Podcast”. I wanted to share a couple of counterpoints to Karl’s excellent research and podcast interview. Below is a list of Karl’s conclusions on football training, and under that are my counterpoints. The reason I wrote this piece is that I believe it is important to stimulate thought on these important subjects in order to keep the conversation of player development moving forward.  I do realize that Karl was given this subject for his Ph.D

Karl Marius Aksum – as published on Twitter

Conclusions on why rondos are not useful

1) The design of Rondos limits the transfer of learning.

2) Rondos lack representative information of the game (i.e., movement, direction).

3) Rondos promote passing behaviors which are very different to the game (distance, technique).

4) Rondos put great value on passing, but none value on defending and dribbling. Thus, limits creativity.

5) Rondos involve only a few key principles of the game.

6) The passes you do in a Rondo is never preceded by scanning.

Coach DiBernardo – Counter Points

  1. Football is all about learning to manipulate time and space. Rondos can help develop this skill set. Playing out of tight areas is a transferable skill.
  2. Inside a rondo when a defender closes you down, tackles, or cuts off a passing lane – these are real transferable game-like situations that require transferable solutions in small spaces. This can be considered very representative.
  3. A 17-person rondo with 3+ players in the middle, played in a larger area, as the outside team transitions into the middle to press and win the ball back when possession is lost, is much different than a 4v2 rondo. The scanning habits of the 3+ players will be high, even the team who just wins the ball must scan a lot when they work their way to their outside positions while being pressed. A 4v2 is a basic fundamental exercise that I would use with younger players to teach backfoot passing & 1/2 turned body position to play forward balls.
  4. Rondos don’t need to have touch restrictions, it depends on the exercise design. Defining what a rondo is in my opinion has changed over time. Years ago the traditional rondo was stationary with a circle of players and defenders in the middle. Now the exercises can have direction, scoring, goals, players inside and outside, etc. This leads me to the point of variability in training. Your rondo training should always involve variability, asking the players to find solutions to constantly changing environments is critical to player development.
  5. Rondos do involve principles of play but not in the identical ways of a real game. But the key is that the exercises are representative enough. Variability will help with this. You will never get fully representative in a rondo but that’s ok, it doesn’t have to be.
  6. I disagree that rondo passing is not followed by scanning. Of course, this is true in a 4v2 rondo but that’s not the purpose of a 4v2 rondo. There are so many other rondos that force scanning and have a direction of play. Watch the + players in a larger rondo, they are always scanning after a pass, watch the 10v3 Ajax rondo to counter goals in a smaller space – players have to always be scanning, as they are located all inside the area.

After to listening Karl’s interview with Rob Gray, I would also contend that everything does not have to be trained in the game model for “transfer of learning” to happen. Futsal is not a 11v11 game, but some of the best players of all time have developed on the futsal court. The “Proving Grounds” in London produces some of the best talent in England (small courts for 3v3 or 4v4). Met Ozil credits playing in the “Cage” in Germany for developing his ability to create in the attacking 1/3. Ronaldinho credits playing beach soccer for his ability to take unique touches on the grass field in 11v11 games that nobody else can understand (he learned this on the beach). These examples are not the 11v11 game, they don’t play with the distances you see for passing in the 11v11 game, and they are not even on the same surfaces, but the players become some of the best ever. My other thoughts are that it is alright to do unopposed work for a warm-up, rondos can start off using smaller spaces playing 1-touch in the beginning, this allows the body to properly warm-up. I wouldn’t start with a demanding rondo that has counter-pressing and covers longer distances before the body is ready. However, you could play ultimate frisbee for the warm-up if you like. What if the players need that fun part to start the training in a good way – Mentally every day is different and coaches can read this to get the most out of the group. I like Karl’s use of constraints in his game model exercises, and there is no doubt that a certain part of training should be a game model with real movements and distances. My biggest critique is that it seems that anything outside of the game model is deemed not useful because the transfer of learning is not present. I would disagree with this point for many reasons. My own methodology uses non-game model exercises 2 days per/week, game-model training 2-days, and a review day before the match. My blog has more extensive articles on my own color-coded methodology.

In conclusion, I commend Karl on his work and really enjoyed reading it all. The scanning data was interesting and his connection from theory to training session design was great. Scanning for me is one component of soccer intelligence that can be cultivated best in representative settings that have tons of variability.