Encouraging a growth mindset and emphasising the learning journey is a key component of Player Development. In this article, Founder of TOVO Institute, Todd Beane shares his thoughts on how you can ensure a learning environment.
Do you want your players to learn?
The night was cooling down as the players were warming up. These young footballers, fresh from primary school, sprinted on to the training ground with boundless energy to play like their heroes. Messi, Iniesta and Neymar were merely a short ride up the road in Barcelona and you could see the youngsters working on signature moves before the coach arrived.
And then training officially began.
The coach had a plan. He was ready to implement what he was convinced was to be a brilliant training session. Or at least the session looked good on paper and seemed amazing in theory.
“It could be justified well and ‘there is method in it,’ to quote Shakespeare.”
I often see well thought-out trainings that coaches have devised with the best intentions. I can see within the drills the thought of the coach. It works for him. To him it is quite logical and quite progressive. It could be justified well and “there is method in it,” to quote Shakespeare.
So what could possibly be the problem? In fact, the coach has followed his federation guidelines and has seen similar drills on YouTube or at a coaching conference. As coaches, we tend to coach in a very similar way to those who coached us. Since it worked for us, it must work for our players, no?
The problem is that football is plush with coaching and short on educating.
“We are a coach only when our players develop because of the activities we have facilitated.”
The value of training does not reside in our heads as coaches. Our litmus test for success must reside in the perspective of the learners, our players. We are not a coach merely by running a training session. We are a coach only when our players develop because of the activities we have facilitated. We are not an educator merely by conducting a class. We are educators when our students demonstrate that they have learned.
I was sitting in a faculty meeting years ago when a teacher uttered this comment. It is so ridiculous that I have remembered it twenty years later. “I taught them math. I cannot help it if they don’t get it,” remarked my colleague. I was stunned.
The thought of divorcing ourselves as educators from the effects of our teaching probably seems bizarre when presented this way. I hope it does.
But how many of us do the same each training session?
How do we know if we are running learning centered trainings with the focus on the acquisition of skill and of conceptual understanding?
While not an exhaustive list, here are three suggestions to help us promote learning:
- ENGAGE THE BRAIN AND BODY
Of course the brain is always involved, but I think we understand that some drills require decision-making and some are just a coach’s mandate to run to a certain cone or do a specific task. Choose rondos, position play games and small-sided training games so that decisions need to be made and made often. Football is a game of fluidity and we can train young players to improve their ability to think if we ask them to do so over and over and over again. Repetition and pattern recognition is a good thing.
- HAVE FUN
“If you are not having fun it makes no sense,” Johan Cruyff once commented. These words ring true. We know that learning that is associated with positive emotions is more effective. Children who learn in a supportive environment will take risks and engage more deeply. Motivation rises. And we know that having fun, quite simply, is a lot more pleasurable than suffering through boring sessions. When it is fun, football does indeed make more sense.
- CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING
There are many ways to do this, but almost all require us to let the player be the protagonist. My favorite is to just close my mouth and open my eyes. Watch the players perform the skills and execute decisions. If so inclined, we can take “before” and “after” videos as that has become increasingly easier to do these days. Observe closely to see if a child fails because of skill or because of poor decisions. And with that feedback, we make adjustments. Our sessions should be challenging but not overly frustrating. Our players’ performance will guide us well.
“They engaged their own brains, they were laughing and competing and you could see them understand the dynamics of the game.”
As training was coming to close, the children stayed on a bit longer to play. The coach concluded his session and the boys were set to their own devices. While a bit late, the parents gave them a little extra time before heading home. In those 20 extra minutes, I am confident that the boys learned more than they did in the hour and half official training. They engaged their own brains, they were laughing and competing and you could see them understand the dynamics of the game.
That very night, I asked my son what the best part of training was.
“The end,” he said.
We are not a coach merely by running a training session. We are a coach only when our players develop because of the activities we have facilitated.
About the Author
As Co-Founder of Cruyff Football and Senior Advisor to the Cruyff Institute, Todd has traveled the world educating professional athletes and coaches. After thirteen years working with his mentor Johan Cruyff, Todd launched TOVO International. TOVO Training is a research-based total football methodology that develops creative and capable footballers. To learn more, click here.