Everything we do in life concerns decisions on distance (time and space); the ‘how long / how far/ ifs/ what’s/ where/ when’ etc. decisions we make occur continuously every day of our lives. Can one imagine the possible disasters that could happen should our decision-making on distance be incorrect?
In Association Football, there has been a re-occurring argument over the use and benefits of unopposed Drill practice (Technique) and opposed practice (Skill). The belief that reality can be assimilated may be fine for computer games, but in my opinion, it is not justified when concerned with the learning of a competitive sport like football. I firmly believe that in any competitive sport any action practised initially in a non-competitive manner and then having to follow with a competitive input at a later date to establish reality, is a misguided learning method and a wasteful use of time. Street Football, was the game’s ‘player provider’ in the past here as well as throughout other parts of the globe, and this situation still appertains today in poorer football playing countries. The chaos learning, small area and competitive nature of these games provided players with many vital playing requirements; none more important than an instinctive awareness of distance. Without opposition one cannot ascertain distance and the associated aspects that relate to it in the game of football.
Apprenticeships and periods of work experience in Industry and Commerce for the young are about learning by doing; simply at first, but within the realistic atmosphere of actual job requirements. By preparing young people by using a hands-on approach makes graduation easier for them to more difficult levels of work. Apprenticeships were once a part of football’s development scene; Academies, have replaced them. Youth players entering apprenticeships in the past had studied at the ‘University of the Street’; modern day entrants into Academies are likely to be recruits of ‘Coaching conformism’.
All practice should conspire to meet the needs of actual purpose. The importance of implementing APPROPRIATE, competitive realism at all age and ability levels defines the very ‘art of coaching’. The classroom is not the football field; the learning of Shakespeare’s plays does not correspond to learning how to play football. Each may be performed before the critical eye of spectators and each have specific difficulties in performance, however, the actor does not have someone interfering with the reciting of pre-rehearsed lines and movements on stage, whereas, the footballer is beset with a host of playing variables plus competitive opposition to thwart his/her performance on the field.
The acquisition of acute distance awareness in football is the difference between the possibility of becoming a talented player and having no chance of playing at top level. Being able to quickly discern distance activates numerous associated decisions, actions and reactions to situations as they occur. The gift of distance perception defines decisions, on type of action required, the space available, the speed of an action needed, the direction of entry into and exit from situations, pass or retention of the ball decisions, passing and finishing distances etc. If football was a non contact sport the use of non-interference practice would be fine, but football is a highly competitive game and so players should practice how they play. I often hear people say “the game at junior levels is too competitive”. And they are correct! But to suggest as some do that games should be non-competitive is ridiculous; how can one be expected not to win! No, it’s not competition that’s the problem, it’s how we introduce it and use it that’s the problem.
Distance appreciation is the defining quality of star players like Messi etc. Their ability to quickly assess actions and variations to them during highly competitive game comes from continuing to practice the same situations they learned as kids in the street. The fantastic facilities available for training today at Academies here does not seem to have produced the quality of player once produced on the street. Everything is in place to develop high quality performers except the most important feature of all……..quality coaching methods! Our persistence to continue with an over-theoretical, athletically ‘camouflaged’ and an academically influenced coaching dogma that has historically failed is truly amazing. The injection of a modernized version of street football practice methods to develop players who can bring sparkle to our game is urgently required. In this way, exciting players who are prepared in a realistic way, will be able to make the fast and finite decisions needed for the game of football and so replace the boring, robotic, ‘hyped’ standards that have become so prevalent here.