Tag Archives: Training

Mind Control


The mind controls the body and not vice versa.  Manage the mind and you compel the body to follow.  Lose the mind and the body is lost as well.  For the athlete:  Perception is the reality. 

Four reasons why coaches must manage the mind of their athletes:

1)      Limits to exercise tolerance are controlled by the mind not the body.  Recent research has shown that the mind can put the brakes on exercise well before the body is at a point of exhaustion.  Fatigue has been found to be derived from thoughts which are aimed at preserving the safety and stability of the body.  Players who can control their mind and suspend thoughts of quitting can be compelled to go farther, faster, and harder.  Coaches who help and encourage this will improve the performance of their players and teams.  This has obvious implications for training, match performance, and general habit-forming.


2)      Mental imagery and visualization is widely regarded as beneficial and an important tool to improve performance across a wide array of sports, disciplines, and environments.  Many professional and Olympic athletes use mental imagery as a matter of course to prepare for a match or event.  In fact, it has been shown that mentally rehearsing a skill, if done properly, is equivalent to actually performing the skill.  Learning requires myelination, or the thickening of the myelin sheaths inside the brain which facilitates improved transmission of information in the brain.  Your brain, however, does not differentiate from actually performing the task or just thinking about it.  Mentally rehearsing can also alleviate performance anxiety and fears, increased focus and awareness, and lead to automaticity in performance.  That being said, the skill of mental imagery and visualization is rarely, if ever, discussed in youth sports, let alone practiced.  Coaches would be advised to educate themselves about mental imagery techniques and learn how to apply them properly so their athletes can benefit from this wonderful and powerful tool.


3)      Verbal and visual feedback has been shown to change hormone levels in subjects and improve or worsen performance depending on the type of feedback.  Positive feedback, either through phrases delivered by the coach or video clips showing great performances, increases the testosterone levels of subjects, thereby improving performance.  Negative feedback had the opposite effect.  Importantly, these effects were found to linger up to one week after the feedback.  What does this mean for the coach?  Control the training and match environment.  Do not let negative thoughts have any air to breath.  Instead ensure that your athletes are thinking and feeling positive and have no anxiety or fear.  This will allow the maximum potential for performance to exist.

4)      So what does a coach do if a negative performance or result occurs, as it inevitably will?  Lie about it and get your athletes to believe it occurred differently!  Actually, this last bit of advice is the most challenging and tricky to apply, for many reasons, but researchers have found that reconstructing a negative event into a positive event can have a profound impact on future performance.  In other words, the actual event is not important, but the memory of the event in the athletes mind.  And if the memory of the negative event can be nudged to a positive, then that’s what the athlete will remember, and it can prevent the athlete from being over-encumbered by self-defeating negative thoughts concern the event.  Obviously, it is not beneficial for anyone to live in state of denial, and truthful investigation and analysis of a poor performance is critical to learning and improving.  However, there are many instances where a poor performance, whether by a team or individual, can lead to a spiral of decay.  Self-defeating thoughts can stand in the way of performance improvements and create real fear.  In these instances, the coach should intervene to begin to re-cast the negative performance and nudge it more positively.   The tricky bit is obviously when and how to do this.  Learning from your mistakes is good, being frozen with fear is not.

The mind controls the body.  What the mind believes occurred is the reality.  Coaches must learn to manage the training and game environments so that negative thoughts and feeling do not limit performance, but instead allow the athletes to develop and maximize their performance potential.


A Question of Tactics

In November of 2008 sports columnist and author Jonathan Wilson began The Question, a series for The Guardian newspaper in the UK exploring all facets of tactical issues in professional football.  The breadth and depth of the articles, and Mr. Wilson’s knowledge on the various subjects, was astounding.  The articles were always excellent and gave real insight into the tactics and systems found in professional football today, as well as the past.  In particular, the articles during the 2008 European Championships in Austria-Switzerland, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and the 2012 European Championships in Poland-Ukraine provided background and understanding to the matches and teams that enabled readers to follow and enjoy the tournaments at a much deeper level.  The articles were unique in mainstream media for their high level of discussion of football tactics.  In fact, I found that the series regularly provided me with a deeper level of tactical understanding which informed my coaching and allowed me to explore new tactical ideas and concepts, especially because I could reference the specific matches, formations, and teams of which Mr. Wilson was writing about.  For this, I found the series invaluable.  I wanted to keep the articles that I found particularly relevant, interesting, and insightful so that I could reference them regularly, if needed.   So I took the time one night to download my favorite articles from the very beginning until the current day, November 20, 2012.  I formatted them to be more readable and use the paper more efficiently.  The result was a 104 page document compiling my favorite articles from The Question series, by Jonathan Wilson.  The articles focus on tactical topics that I found helpful from a coaching point of view.  Enjoy! THE QUESTION DOCUMENT

Expert Performance in Sport – Notes From a USOC Seminar

On November 13, 2008, the United States Olympic Committee held a two-day seminar entitled Development, Enhancement and Sustainability of Expert Performance in Sport.  Presenting were five world-renowned leaders in the field: K. Anders Ericsson, Richard A. Schmidt, Mark Williams, Dr. Peter Vint, and Jim Bauman.

 The following are my notes from the report on the seminar available from the Winter 2009 edition of the USOC Olympic Coach Newsletter.  I made these notes with reference to two outstanding books I read on expert performance, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

 First, some preliminary information.  Expert performance is predicated upon a type of practice called Deliberate Practice.  It is defined in various references, including the two books cited above.  Here is another definition, along with Deliberate play, taken from an article from the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology (2008, 30, 685-708) entitled The Contribution of Structured Activity and Deliberate Play to the Development of Expert Perceptual and Decision-Making Skill (downloadable the English FA website).

 Deliberate Practice:

Deliberate practice [is] defined as highly structured practice undertaken with the specific purpose of improving performance in the domain of specialization. In addition, deliberate practice [is] characterized as requiring sustained cognitive and/or physical effort, being solely directed toward positive skill development and error correction, and being not necessarily inherently enjoyable. (pg. 686)

 Deliberate Play:

Deliberate play activity typically occurs during the sampling years of sport participation (ages 6–13 years), before specialization (approx. ages 13–16 years) and investment (approx. ages 17+ years), and encapsulates developmental physical activities that are intrinsically motivating, provide immediate gratification, and are specifically designed to maximize enjoyment. Deliberate play activity includes the classic neighborhood pickup games, such as park football and street basketball, that are usually played with small-sided teams and flexible peer-defined rules. In contrast to deliberate practice, these deliberate play activities are not partaken with the specific intent of improving performance; however, they nevertheless may become important in influencing whether expertise ultimately appears (Côté, 1999; Côté et al., 2003). (pg. 687)

 Elements of Deliberate Practice (Ericksson)

(Note:  Deliberate practice is a special kind of practice which is required for development of experts in any sport.  It is the type of practice coaches want their athletes to be engaged in.)

  • Practice with goals and expectations
  • The practice must be monitored by a coach
  • Practice involves repetition and successive refinement
  • Athletes must have full concentration
  • The critical aspect is time spent in deliberate practice.

 Skill Development (Shmidt)

  • Blocked” Practice – repetition of a single skill with no auxiliary components
  • Random” Practice – training of skills is randomly ordered in cycles, e.g. skill 1, skill 2, skill 3, skill 2, skill 3, skill 1, skill 3, etc.
  • Blocked” Practice good for performance of skill
  • Random” Practice good for competition skills.  Best suited to the development of soccer skills as they must be used in a competitive environment.

 Feedback – Single most important factor for learning a skill

  • Types of feedback:
    • Augmented Feedback – feedback about outcome or quality of action
    • Summary Feedback – feedback after 5, 10, or 15 performances of a skill.  Feedback after 10-15 reps appears optimal
    • Instantaneous Feedback – most common and LEAST beneficial
    • Continuous & Concurrent Feedback – less effective for retention
    • Bandwidth Feedback – coach establishes high and low level of acceptable performance and makes comments only when performance is outside of high-low bands.

 Practice and Instruction in Sport (Williams)

  • Athletes in soccer academy inEnglandspend 18 hours per week in practice (Note:  Ages not reported)
    • 4 hours of team practice (22.2%)
    • 5 hours individual practice (27.8%)
    • 9 hours deliberate play (50%)
    • For effective learning coach should only demonstrate when necessary.
      • Only after initial practice on task
      • Have variable and randomness in practice
      • Provide least amount of feedback
      • Demonstrations are less effective when refining an existing movement pattern.

 Based on the above information the implications for coaching, therefore, are clear.  Coaches should strive to create an environment of deliberate practice at training.  This means the athletes must be focused at the task at hand; coaches must provide sufficient and correct feedback in the correct dosage and in the correct manner, avoiding instantaneous feedback; and random practice is best for soccer-specific skills.  This means vary the technical drills such as passing, finishing, often.

Variations on a 4 v 4 Theme

Many tactical training sessions are based around a small-sided game theme. In fact, aerobic conditioning can also be achieved using small-sided games. The small-sided game is such an important tool for a coach, it is helpful to have in the “coaches toolbox” a clear understanding of how and why to vary the small-sided game to achieve different aims. I consider, and will use, the 4 v 4 2-touch possession game (20yd x 20yd) as the benchmark from which we will investigate the possible variations. I use this game in most, if not all, of my training sessions throughout the season. Many times it is used as a warm-up before a larger tactical game, but it serves as an excellent warm-up which also gets the players in the right state of mind and body before moving on to other more complex training.

Following are the many variations on the 4 v 4 theme which can be used to great affect: Continue reading

Using Heart Rate Monitors During Soccer Training

The intensity at which an athlete performs training exercises is a crucial factor in athletic training and development. However, it is often difficult to accurately quantify how intensely an exercise has been performed. This can be an obstacle in planning effective training sessions as certain exercises must be performed at prescribed intensities in order for there to be the desired degree of athletic improvement. Performing an exercise at too low of an intensity will not allow the athlete to progress and, over the long term, will result in stagnation or a degradation of athletic ability. Performing an exercise at too high of an intensity can result in excessive fatigue, injury, or overtraining.
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Sports Research To Make Your Team Play Better Today

Coaches should be aware of the latest research in the sports science and physiology arena in order to constantly keep their team performing at their maximum potential. Research findings in the area of sports nutrition and conditioning can have a dramatic and immediate effect on a team’s performance. Effectively using this information can provide that extra edge over close opponents, especially in the latter stages of the season when games take on extra importance and overall team fatigue is a real factor.
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10 Best Practices for Pre-Season Training

Every year, college and high school soccer coaches are confronted with the same dilemma: how best to get their team into game-shape in the limited amount of time available for pre-season. This time typically ranges from three to four weeks, and with a full agenda on the schedule such as tactical and technical training in addition to conditioning, it can be a daunting task to optimize the training to get the most out of the limited amount of time. Pre-season is also the most critical time of the entire soccer season. It is the time in which the coach gets to set the agenda for training and build good habits without the interference of matches. It requires proper planning and a step-wise procedure. So, to help with this process, here are ten simple things to keep in mind so that pre-season training is as efficient and effective as possible.

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