By Jay Primiano
I have often been told that repetition is the mother of all learning. I have accepted this premise as an axiom to live by and have been fairly diligent about implementing this into my soccer training sessions.
What I have come to realize is that training through mere repetition as we use it in the dynamic sport of soccer, with an ever changing myriad of data that requires an equally complex processing component, is insufficient to effectively develop the brain of the soccer athlete.
The child is not completely trained through repetition, but through dynamic exercises with multiple variables and stimuli. There’s a difference between including significant amounts of repetition in your training sessions and being repetitious. There is an important distinction between the two methods of training.
At a recent coaches’ training clinic I asked the question, Is repetition a good thing for your training sessions? I included a follow up question, Would it be a good idea to include a warm-up session that included the Coerver skill-based foundation training every day? Most of the enthusiastic coaches suggested that it would be great to include this repetitive movement, performed in the same manner each time at training so that the athletes could master the fundamentals of the movement.
While they are not wrong, they are not 100 percent right. It is my contention that the coach that is repetitious and relies on specific exercises as a crutch to carry his or her training session runs the risk of boredom, which leads to methodical, robotic movements that could be likened to the movements of a trained circus animal.
These movements are not reflective of a soccer athlete’s responsibilities with the ball when he or she has to perform in the varied environment of a soccer match. In the soccer match there are many options available to the child that is capable of manipulating the ball effectively. There are also multiple levels of influence and stimuli affecting the choices associated with and oriented around the movement of that ball.
Therefore, we have a conundrum. We have to master the ball through repetition during training in order to be able to discover the variety of options during the game, but we need to accomplish this without being too repetitious about our methods as coaches. We coaches need to work back from our challenges and then decide how we can augment our training sessions to eliminate boredom, and therefore provide the opportunity for mastery of the skill set.
The first thing I like to do when training for skill set mastery is to train in a more random manner. Linear arrangements are good for coaches, but not necessarily for players. With that in mind, here are some important points of emphasis:
1) Keep your organizational patterns random and not linear. (Don’t worry, you Type A personalities will get used to this after some time. My advice: put away the clipboard.)
2) Be dynamic and get around to all of the areas as a coach, changing your coaching angle and the angle in which you demonstrate the activities. This is more visually stimulating to the athletes.
3) Use foundation training methods and foundation exercises, but add a challenge to the exercise (i.e. perform 20 Cruyff turns in 30 seconds).
4) After a player completes a series of moves effectively, they are permitted to strike on goal. The one skill that is under-taught at all levels of the game is perhaps the most important skill and that is striking the ball. Build this into everything you do. For example, you could include the completion of a move 10 times (for example, the Mathews) and then the athlete is required to combine two moves of their choice and then serve a ball to a target. After that, return to the sphere of influence (grid or circle), gather a new ball, complete a series of foundation tasks and then serve a ball with the outside of the foot. The combinations are countless and all resulting in the striking of the ball.
5) Add the competition of three different color vested groups. Groups are trying to complete the foundation tasks, adding the striking piece to the foundation task and counting how many they can do over an interval of time. The team counts and there is a winner. Make sure you add the competition to your foundation training to avoid boredom and to build excitement. If the athletes are competing, be sure to require quality. There’s tendency by the athletes to rush and therefore get sloppy.
6) Demand precision in every technical training session. While creativity and discovery is what we are attempting to foster, it is an offshoot of the foundation training. Provide time for discovery but when training for technique, be specific with your requirements for completion. Do not let them get sloppy!
7) The next part of the training involves the foundation training, but moves the activities to a level including combination with another athlete. This type of training should always result in a shot on goal, or a service to a target and competition with other groups. Include multiple goals.
8) To include a match-related stage, you could include some sort of possession training, whether it be games such as 3v3v3, which is essentially 6v3 for possession. I add six goals in the exercise placed randomly in our space. One goal can be placed at a great distance from the sphere of influence or grid area. One goal could be very near the area. Another could be at an extreme angle. The team that possesses for eight passes in a row can combine to shoot on one of the goals but never on the same goal twice. When all six goals are completed the game is over.
Of course, you can change the complexity of this exercise if you choose, by requiring fewer passes. I prefer timing the possession over number of passes, as the players sometimes need to hold possession without their teammates and therefore will be inclined to make correct choices to hold the ball when appropriate. When possession is complete, the bell rings and the team is permitted their chance on goal.
9) Confirm your results under match conditions. Play a game.
Include repetition in your technical training sessions and warm-ups without being repetitious. Mastery of skill certainly leads to creativity. How coaches arrive at the end result can become more fun when the coach changes the variables regularly to avoid boredom and when the coach continually seeks methods to work on a variety of challenges in the time allotted.