FC Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez is seen by many as the Einstein of Football. His vision and awareness provide the perfect example for young players who aspire to develop a deep understanding of the game. These skills, combined with a level of technical ability rarely surpassed, have led to Xavi engineering some of the most unique, creative and exciting goals in world football.
When you arrive at Barcelona the first thing they teach you is: think. Think, think, and think quickly. Lift your head up, move your head, see, and think. Look before you get the ball. If you’re getting this pass, look to see if that guy is free, make a decision before you get the ball – Xavi Hernandez, FC Barcelona
The above quote leads to a broad question: What is awareness and how do we interpret it in the football world? The Oxford Dictionary offers two definitions on the topic:
1. Knowledge or perception of a situation or fact: i.e. ‘we need to raise public awareness of the issue’
2. Concern about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development: i.e. ‘a growing medical awareness’.
A common denominator between these two definitions is that they highlight knowledge, perception and well-informed interest (or curiosity).
However, these definitions do not highlight the importance of thinking or decision-making, yet modern coaches when working with their players on awareness will constantly speak of this. So, is the definition wrong or are coaches misinterpreting it?
When we examine Spanish superstar Xavi Hernandez we can investigate football awareness at its peak. Xavi has been educated within Barcelona’s famous La Masia, where he learned to love playing an attractive style of football. Fellow Barcelona star Dani Alves has been quoted as saying, ‘Xavi plays in the future.’
Intelligence and awareness are what separate Xavi from many other promising technical centre midfield players. More often than not, Xavi will not try to force the play. Instead, he will pass the ball patiently with his eyes and head in the air waiting for subtle movements, allowing him an opportunity to play a clever pass to create a goal-scoring opportunity for his team. Interestingly, during the last three major tournaments that Spain won (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012) they managed to score six goals in those finals. Of these six goals scored, Xavi provided the assist for three of them. Xavi is known for his high level of knowledge, which helps him to perceive the game in a different light. This is what allows him to produce the most crucial passes at the highest level of football where the stakes are high and the pressure to win is enormous.
As coaches, we all attend courses on our developmental journey. Have you ever come away from a course thinking your newfound knowledge has enabled you to be an even better player? Have you ever had a coach whose knowledge lifted your game to the next level? Thinking back to the Oxford Dictionary’s definition, if we’ve experienced these things then we have improved knowledge and therefore improved awareness. So in theory we could just deliver coaching courses to our players and the job would be done, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Football players need to be able to understand, focus on and interpret informational cues while they play the game. When you watch Xavi closely, examine how much information he’s taking in, how fast he makes decisions and how through years of technical development and training, he has the ability to tear defensive structures apart all because of his high level of game awareness.
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