The Importance of Cognitive Training

Altan Ramadan Toffa Leave a Comment

Thomas Muller, a terrific example of the modern player describes himself as a Raumdeuter (interpreter of space)

What Makes a Good Footballer?

“A good footballer is someone who can offer the perfect solution in an unpredictable situation.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is absolutely correct.  A footballer is defined by decision-making as much as pure technical skills.  The ability to see an opportunity and then execute accordingly is what makes the difference at any level of the game.

How to create a good footballer is a central theme of Raphael Honigstein’s excellent book Das Reboot – the story of how German football re-invented itself after the disastrous 1998 FIFA World Cup campaign that culminated in a 3-0 whupping at the hands of Croatia.

Youth Academies

The central response of the German Football Federation was the creation of academies throughout the country and investment in coach education. Academies were aligned with all professional clubs and regional associations so that every young player in the country had the opportunity to be noticed and accelerated through a talent development pathway.

The growth of academies resulted in youth football being paid more than lip service.  Clubs recognised the importance of developing local talent from a commercial perspective (reduced recruitment costs, increased transfer fee receipts) and connection to local fans (everyone wants to support a team that features local heroes).

At the time, fierce resistance at national and regional level met proposed changes to the way Germany developed youth footballers.  The changes seemed like an over-reaction but a poor European Championship in 2000 silenced the doubters and change occurred. A focus on youth was a paradigm shift for the professional clubs that were more used to buying talent.

The results cannot be denied.  The German national team that won the 2014 FIFA World Cup featured 21/23 players that were products of the revamped German academy system.

Intellectual Capabilities

Academies included schooling facilities for young players.

Interesting, since 1998, more and more of the young players coming through the academy system are achieving academic results as well as positive footballing outcomes.  University entrance level exams or other secondary school achievements are highly likely for many of the students involved in the academy programme.

While specific research has not been completed on the link between football and academic development, the need to organise and focus in the footballing environment seems to create a platform for young athletes. This platform, when transferred to scholastic opportunities means that they have the skills to achieve targets and thrive outside the world of football – something that should be of interest to all parents.

Youth development requires an athlete to sacrifice for a long-term goal that is highly competitive.  Taking the long-term view is a tremendous skill to develop for any individual – short term opportunity is put aside for success over time.

Football as a Mind Game

The intellectual element of football is rapidly becoming more important in the modern game.

The ability of players to respond to random situations in match play is critical.

Players need to consider changing formations and systems during the course of a match, adjustments to tactics and how to play without the ball (does a team press the ball or space?)  Each of these changes means that a player needs to be intelligent and flexible in their thinking.

The days of a player performing just one role during the course of 90 minutes are long gone. Sure, a player may stay in one position during the course of the match, but the requirements of that position are likely to change dependent on match conditions and the opponent.

Top Flight Football Academy facilitates players’ problem solving and decision making by regularly putting them in match like scenarios, where quick decision making is vital to gaining a positive outcome. “Train as you play, play as you train” is a mantra regularly repeated to the players.

Thomas Muller

The German striker Thomas Muller is a terrific example of the modern player.  A product of the academy system, he describes himself as a Raumdeuter (interpreter of space).

His game is based on exploring areas of the field that others don’t consider relevant such as the space between the goal-line and back four during an attacking throw-in.  He finds space that others don’t, often in crowded situations and creates openings for others.

Most importantly, his work without the ball is paramount.  For both Bayern Munich and Germany he is constantly making his opponents react to him.

This level of thinking and pressure is what Top Flight Football Academy is seeking to achieve – football is a thinking game requiring a high degree of cognitive effort.  Like the German academy system, we strive to produce multi-dimensional players that have both the technical skills and the footballing intelligence to use those skills, in the right place, at the right time.

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