Harnessing Cognitive Training in Soccer: Willem II’s Strategy

 Young players at Willem II undergoing a cognitive training drill.

Netherlands soccer has historically plummeted in the FIFA rankings, signaling a dire need for change. As Germany races ahead with Julian Nagelsmann’s innovative training methods, Dutch clubs are exploring ways to elevate player development. Today, we spotlight Willem II, famously termed “Netherlands’ Cognitive Club.”

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The Brain Behind The Game

In late 2016, the Volkskrant highlighted Willem II’s unique approach—brain training for young players. These budding talents are put to the test, solving math problems while playing. This strategy is one of many implemented in their youth programs, aiming to challenge players with intricate drills. As Omroep Brabant uncovered, the rationale is fascinating: “Activating the brain during training stimulates the production of myelin, an essential element for athletes. Myelin accelerates the retrieval of learned information.”

Collaborative Efforts

In their endeavor, Willem II collaborates with Belgian Michel Bruynickx, founder of Cognitraining and Senseball. The Senseball, a ball attached to a string, allows frequent touches in a short timeframe. Paired with chanting math problems, it expedites the learning of technical skills.

Watch the insightful video on Willem II and cognitive training

What’s the Purpose?

In sports, basic techniques, known as motor tasks, are crucial. For soccer, it’s dribbling; for hockey, stick-handling. But cognitive tasks, encompassing information processing, spatial insight, and decision speed, also play pivotal roles. The Dual Task method blends these tasks. As an example, consider juggling a soccer ball (a motor task) while reciting the multiplication table of 8 (a cognitive task). It gauges the automation of basic movements. Studies, such as one by Masters on the Dual Task method in golf putting, have unveiled intriguing outcomes. The results? Dual Task training can surpass conventional coaching techniques.

Mastering The Mind

The essence? Reciting math tables during rhythmic actions occupies the visual-motor system, discouraging overthinking about the action. This bolsters the brain to execute movements effortlessly. Willem II’s trainer, Jan de Hoon, attests, “Players are quicker in space recognition, forming play patterns, and decisive passing. Everything is swifter.”

Personal Insight

I firmly believe in the potential of these exercises. However, children’s varying math skills and the demand on concentration are considerations. Stay tuned for more on clubs adopting targeted brain training.

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