Rethinking Soccer Training: The Cognitive Approach

Youth soccer players engaged in a cognitive training session

Recent research, including the study by Terry Mc Morris, suggests it might be beneficial to rethink our soccer training methods. Instead of starting with technique drills, why not end the session with them?

Read more: Rethinking Soccer Training: The Cognitive Approach

Dutch Football’s Training Debate

For years, there’s been a debate in the Netherlands about the future of Dutch football, especially the way youth players are trained. Ruben Jongkind posits that individual player development should be prioritized over team processes during youth training—a view I wholeheartedly agree with. But understanding each player’s unique traits is crucial for tailored coaching. Let’s delve deeper into the role of cognition in youth football training and the concept of rethinking exercise routines.

The Importance of Scientific Studies

In my view, scientific research is crucial in this context. Researchers dissect and highlight the essential facets for optimal performance. However, most youth coaches remain unaware of these studies. Specialized experts, such as sports psychologists or physiologists, often bridge this gap, translating the research into practice. Clubs not having access to such specialists can still benefit from academic literature. Unnithan’s 2012 study on football talent, for instance, describes four quadrants predicting future success, encompassing psychological predictors, perceptual-cognitive skills, sociological factors, and physiological indicators.

Zooming in on Cognitive Skills

One notable study from Terry Mc Morris and his team at the University College Chichester in the UK found that athletes’ working memory performances decline when they’re exhausted. The working memory, often termed the “conductor” of the brain, prioritizes and retains daily influxes of information. Research indicates that youth players best learn new movements without overthinking them—it’s about experiencing the movements. Therefore, minimizing the involvement of the working memory is crucial.

Practical Application in Training

There are varying opinions on youth football training. Some advocate for the “Coerver” method, emphasizing isolated, resistance-free learning, while others, including the KNVB, believe in the “learn by playing” approach, derived from street football. Many trainers now start with “Coerver” drills focusing on ball control, transitioning to different game scenarios, and ending with the beloved scrimmage. Based on Mc Morris’ research, one might suggest saving the “Coerver” drills for the end. By this time, the players are tired, and their reduced working memory means they experience movements more authentically.

To conclude, from a scientific standpoint, it’s wise to rethink our training structure. However, practical considerations, such as children’s preference for end-of-session games, should be factored in. This is just one insight from a cognitive perspective, with more intriguing research insights to follow, aiding trainers and coaches in personalized player guidance.

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