With complete freedom to redesign talent development, what would you do? Founder of TOVO Academy Barcelona and top PDP contributor Todd Beane answers this question by providing an exclusive insight into the ‘TOVO way’.
TOVO Academy offers football immersion programs for youth players, as well as coaching courses designed for innovative trainers and technical directors. They also train players and coaches on site worldwide via their Club Alliance scheme.
The idea came about when I tried to answer the following question: with complete freedom to redesign talent development, what would you do? I encourage you to take out a blank piece of paper, clear your mind and give it a go.
Inquiry: Tabula Rasa
This is actually what I did. I bought a journal and rid myself of the politics and “powers that be” in football and focused only on maximizing the talent of a young player. I did not let myself edit out any ideas. Instead, I let them flow freely onto the page, scribbling relentlessly without restraint.
“I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.” – Miles Davis
Let me tell you it ended in a big mess and maze of notes and nonsense. Pages of marvelous incoherency. Numbers and names. Drawings and diagrams.. But in that chaotic and cathartic process, ideas did indeed emerge. The delirium of divergent thinking slowly began to yield to the custom of convergence. This was my new point of departure after years of teaching, coaching and coordinating talent programs. I knew then that there would be no turning back. My new world was no longer flat and I needed to embrace the orb of innovation.
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” – John Steinbeck
When you start from the perspective of the learner, things change.
Much of football coaching has been developed from the coach-centric perspective. That reality affords us an opportunity. It allows us to rethink the way we approach the challenge. It is not a coincidence that many schools are modernizing their approach to learning systems. Blended learning, flipped classrooms and project-based learning have all emerged from this same opportunity to rethink the role of the educator. As coaches, we must examine the learning process and tap into its remarkable power.
In the end, we share the same agenda: to develop talented, intelligent and responsible soccer players and citizens. On that I believe all coaches agree. In our best moments, we know that wins and losses will fade into history but the relationships created will last a lifetime and transmit the noblest values of sport.
So, what happens when we focus on the latest research on talent development, on skill acquisition, on mindset, on effective teaching? What would coaching become and what would our new curriculum look like? That was my departure point. It was not exactly a tabula rasa, but it was certainly a tabula with great freedom to start anew conceptually and then build from there.
Discovery – Traditional Training
Here is what we find.
“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” – Charles Kettering
Many training programs teach skills in such isolation that children do not learn to apply them under the demanding conditions of a match. In other words, the players do not develop their cognitive abilities. In addition, many training sessions are merely a collection of drills that have no correlation to the player’s role within a system of play. In fact, much of the structure and implementation of traditional training contradicts sound pedagogical practices and ignores recent research on effective teaching.
We also find that traditional training is so heavily imbedded in the culture of football currently that to redesign it would require a completely new paradigm from which to construct a more dynamic and effective program to maximize the potential of each and every player.
The governing “technical centric” paradigm breaks the games to pieces in a way that tosses aside cognitive development. It reduces the game to nothing that resembles the reality of applied skill in real time. Players can juggle, dribble or pass in isolation without having mastered the power to do so effectively in a match itself. Imagine being able to play notes but not music.
“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.” – Alfred North Whitehead
However, analyzing shortcomings of a current system does not solve much. It only calls us to put forth an alternative. And that alternative must be markedly different in its efficacy. I knew that my notes were just notes. And so the process continued.
Execution: The TOVO Fundamentals
What would change if we engaged the best practices from education, music, art and other fields and applied them to our football training? We would not replicate the traditional training tenets. They would not serve us well today. We would replace the “technical-centric” paradigm with a “geo-cognitive” paradigm. We would build sessions that were cognitively faithful to the demands of playing the game. We would make trainings dynamic, player-centered and fully engaging.
Thus emerged our own TOVO Training mandate.
- Training will be fun.
- Training will be age appropriate.
- Training will consist of learner-centered activities.
- Training will develop individuals within the team context.
- Training will encourage taking risks and honor failure as a step to success.
- Training will nurture cognitive development as well as technical execution.
The “why” had led to the “what” and it was to now time to move forward toward to the “how”.
Instead of dissecting the game into unrecognizable parts, we built from the whole. Instead of creating thousands of complex exercises we utilize a base of 30 exercises, from rondos, to position play exercises, to purposeful training games. Players no longer need to waste valuable time understanding the rules of a drill and waste their entire bandwidth extrapolating an obscure relevance to the weekend match.
“Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso
We developed a logical progression of exercises that directly construct the conditions under which a player will need to perform. This learner-based program uses pattern recognition and geometric forms to simplify the complexity of the game. In the end, a footballer must have the capability and the confidence to play the game intelligently.
“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.” – Carl Jung
Each exercise within our training portfolio is designed to help players find solutions to the challenges presented by their opponents. Our players love the dynamic, engaging and competitive nature of our training sessions. As coaches, we know that while they are having fun they are unconsciously training their brains and bodies to work in harmony.
Assessment: Relevant Feedback
What kept circling back into our thoughts was the concept of metrics. How might one measure the efficacy of a talent development program? It is here that we came to the conclusion that football was using the wrong evaluation system.
For example, if my nephew Tyler can build a sailboat that sails the sea with his own hands, does that boat have to win a race to justify his craftsmanship? You will invariably answers “no” because you understand that there are so many more variables going into competition. You will also see the value in the creation process divorced in part form the product (assuming that the product floats, of course). The point here is that we can also agree that a match alone is not reliable metric to determine the efficacy of the learning process. A weak team may be collectively weaker but have learned more in one season that a perennial powerhouse.
“The future depends upon what you do today.” – Ghandi
Let me give you a football example I shared with FC Barcelona coaches in a workshop years ago. In our region, FC Barcelona youth academy recruits the best players from surrounding clubs and should continue to do so. Having said that, two things occur. First they get the best players. Second, they weaken the opponent by taking their best players. This is not a complaint in any way. It is to suggest that they will win the majority of their matches year in and year out regardless of the efficacy of their coaching. A win is not a reliable metric for talent progression.
“Football is about competing to win, but not at the expense of what is valuable to us ethically or educationally.” – Todd Beane
So, how can we measure progress? At TOVO, we take a look at baseline data when a player begins to train. We analyze his cognition (thinking and decision-making), his competence (ball control, movement, positioning) and his character (ambition, respect and resilience). This baseline is our departure point and it is form here that a player must progress in every aspect of the game. Development is the application of learning. Our goal is to develop the individual within the team context and let the match results come accordingly. It is not about abandoning the league table. Football is about competing to win, but not at the expense of what is valuable to us ethically or educationally.
The beauty of football rests in its diverse interpretations of how to play the game. The beauty of talent development rests in our ability to inspire learning and to do so as effectively and efficiently as possible. The TOVO Way is not the only way and it should never be. But for those with whom this article may resonate, you feel it like I did years ago. You know that what is happening today is not our best. You sense that we are wasting a lot of our time with too many details that have nothing to do with pure development. You also aspire to look beyond your federation and your club to explore new systems, new ideas, and refreshing nuances.
“No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered.” – Winston Churchill
If given the liberty to do so, how many of us would recreate the exact system in which we train our youth today. I imagine not many. From this day forward we can approach coaching with the purest motive – to develop talented, intelligent and responsible footballers. Young athletes will amaze us when we tap the deeper reserve of talent within them.
We took out a blank piece of paper and TOVO Training was what we created. Perhaps you have a spare pad of paper and a pencil just waiting for you. It all starts with inquiry.