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Ensuring young players understand the why is vital to creating intelligent creative footballers of the future.

Understanding The Why
“I think therefore I play”- Andrea Pirlo

“Behind every kick of the ball, there must be a thought” – Dennis Bergkamp

“Football is a game played with the brain” – Johan Cruyff

Some of the greatest footballers of the last 40 years cannot be wrong.

Football is a game that requires intelligence.

In every match players have to make hundreds of decisions regarding positioning, movement and action with and without the ball, based on opponents and teammates that are in a constant state of flux.

So how do we teach our young players to make the right decision?

The answer is to ensure that players understand The Why.  Our young footballers need to become students of the game, learning why they should be performing any given football action at a certain position and time.

Redefining What Skill Means
Football is a skillful game.  Players must have the ability to efficiently execute a decision, over and over again, for the duration of a match.

Unfortunately, in New Zealand, football is often coached as if it was a non-dynamic or linear sport such as athletics or swimming.  The How is the focus of the coaching, not The Why.

Individuals aren’t just required to be technical; they must also have sound judgment and decision-making abilities.  Too much local football coaching instruction is focused on the execution of a technique rather than the execution of a skill. It’s a subtle but incredibly important distinction to make.

Skill in football contains three elements – communication, decision-making and finally the execution of that decision using a particular technique.

Thus, technique is actually the last component in any given footballing action. Unfortunately, in New Zealand not nearly enough consideration is given to the first two components of a football action.

As such, the importance of communication (verbal and visual) and decision-making are not passed on to our young footballers. The focus tends to be on the output rather than the inputs.

The result is unattractive, unintelligent football where brawn overshadows brains.

What Can We Do?
We need our players to develop the match intelligence that allows for a skill to be executed at the right time, at the right place, in the right direction and at the right speed on game day if they are to reach their full potential.

Whether or not this learning is embedded is down to the role of the coach and his or her ability to ask questions that guide the player, as well as the type of training methods and practices utilized.

Questions should be direct and lead the player/training squad to understand not only the reason behind a certain action, The Why, but also how it relates back to the particular playing style or philosophy.

Players should be encouraged to provide, understand and react accordingly to visual and verbal cues as this helps develop anticipation and team understanding for game day.

Finally players should regularly be put in positions where they are making decisions under match like conditions and intensity.  Therefore, training must imitate game day as much as possible.  Every session must look like it has been extracted from part of a match, ready to be worked on in more detail (please refer to our earlier blog here for the merits of block vs random training).

Why It Matters
Over time this process allows players to take their learnings from the training field and apply them directly to match day.  They understand the visual and verbal cues of both teammates and opponents and can anticipate accordingly.

Once players understand why they are doing something they are much better equipped to make the right decisions on the field.

Intelligent players with awareness and understanding, students of the game – that is what we want to shape at Top Flight Football Academy.  Making sure players learn The Why helps achieve that because a player who knows why will always outwit a player who only knows how.

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