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The Blog

I Wish Wiel Coerver Got It Right

Founder of TOVO Institute & regular Player Development Project Contributor, Todd Beane discusses whether the Coerver Coaching model is in fact flawed. In this challenging post, Todd questions the value of skill acquisition in isolation versus the benefits of game-based learning in the dynamic environment of football by asking ‘did Wiel Coerver get it right?’


This blog may upset a lot of people in soccer.

Having said that, this article may also resonate with some of you soccer coaches out there that somewhere deep in your gut feel what I am about to suggest.

Believe me when I say that I respect what Wiel, Alfred and Charlie put into the market 30 years ago. They have had a profound impact on so many players and coaches who still today can repeat the isolated moves attributed to great players. The “Cruyff Turn,” named after my own father in law, is still performed worldwide. And perhaps that is a good thing.

But it is not enough.

Johan Cruyff had not practiced that move. He perceived the variables at a given moment, saw the defender poised in assumption, and then decided to make the move that would form part of the Coerver curriculum. The move was born in real time, against a real defender and the match in flow. It was not a “move”; it was a solution.

A Coach’s Paradigm

The Coerver conceptual framework is logical. It is based upon a deconstructionist model of education that travels well beyond the field and into the classroom. In many ways it is the base of why we have dissected material into subjects and subjects into chapters and so on. It is also why schools drill the way they do, test the way they do, operate the way they do and too often fail the way they do.

This deconstructionist model works for teachers and coaches trying to manage the complexity of educating children. Unfortunately, it does not work as well for the learner.

Life is not the sum of its parts. It is much more.

Football is not the sum of its technical parts; it is much more.

Do not confuse this statement with suggestion that technical skills are not important. They are and will always be and isolated skill work may be addressed individually. The main question is not our final destination to develop creative and capable players. My concern is to find the road that will lead us there with greater joy and greater efficiency.

A Learner’s Paradigm

If we seek to nurture solution oriented players capable of managing the complexity of the game then we need to change the road we have been travelling and to rethink our typical training.

As we learn more about how the brain works and how the application of skill works, we see that “cognitive fidelity” is critically important to applying skills within the demands of task we will perform.

“What we have discovered is that a key factor for an effective transfer from the training environment to reality is that the training program ensures ‘Cognitive Fidelity’, this is, it should faithfully represent the mental demands that happen in the real world.” (Daniel Gopher)

Have you ever seen children in a park run skill drills? Me neither. They play and as they play they develop so many critical skills. They may need a guided discovery framework to play better, but they make meaning from the whole. They understand intuitively that the end is their beginning.

In this natural process, they are honing one of the most critical elements of being a top player. They train their decision-making and they reinforce their ability to solve real time, real data issues. Children acquire skills when they are most motivated to do so, when they need to solve something important to them – like being better. If you have children you know this. If you coach children you have seen this. There is a reason why children do this. Because this is how they make meaning. This is how they learn.

We can better serve our young players by emphasizing rondos, position play exercises, and small-sided matches. “This is because in competitive team games, the opportunity to make a pass arises and dissolves according to the spatial-temporal relations established between competing performers.” (Travassos et al., 2012a).

“Design of practice tasks needs to represent opportunities to act, emphasizing the need for individual performers to explore the performance environment, as they would in competitive performance.” (Pinder et al., 2011; Vilar, Araujo, Davids, & Renshaw).

How many of you read all the instructions before you assemble the boxed gift? Be honest. If you are like most, you start and then go back to the instructions when you need them most. For me, I just yield to my much more intelligent wife, which I highly recommend to develop sustainable marriages. But I digress.

Too many current training sessions I see get it wrong. We use way too many isolated skill drills. We use far too few games that demand solutions in real time. “Practice task simulations may be simplified but still be designed to maintain action fidelity and achievement as in competitive performance. (Bruno Travassos, Ricardo Duarte, Luís Vilar, Keith Davids & Duarte Araujo (2012)

We can choose another road. We can completely reconstruct the way we go about training. As I said, this may not sit too well with the powers that be in soccer. Particularly, if you are a disciple of the prevailing methodology.

That’s OK.

I am travelling the TOVO international road less travelled and maybe a few of you might be inspired to join me.

I suggest that we must always respect Cruyff, Zidane, and Ronaldo for their moves that inspired us. And there is so much to learn from them. But if we are to develop creative players of the future, then perhaps we should allow our players to invent some moves of their own.

Abraham Maslow stated that “almost all creativity involves purposeful play.”

I tend to agree with him.

(Feel free to join us at TOVOinternational.com to share your ideas with us. As coaches we all share a noble goal to maximize talent.)

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.