I am reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle at the moment, and felt inspired to write a blog post about the difference between constant neural circuits and flexible neural circuits because I have always believed that there is far too much shouting from the sidelines in youth football, from well-meaning coaches and parents offering a slew of instruction, when silence might be the best option. This book explained why for me more eloquently than I could have!
I have always believed that that if your goal is to develop player for the long-term, and not just a winning team for today, then young players need to have lots of opportunities to try new things and learn through the repetition of making lots and lots of decisions.
Often coaches go straight to a command style, and ‘tell’ players what to do, and I think that we run the risk of creating predicable, almost robotic players if that is how we continue to coach them. Players need to experience the game and make decisions for themselves in order for deep learning to flourish.
So back to the book. I got to Part III called Master coaching and read stories about the study of how top coaches in all sorts of genres act while they are coaching. I then came across a comparison between a violin tutor and a Brazilian football coach, which perfectly explained it for me …
The violin teacher was offering a constant stream of verbal instruction to her pupil, as they played while the renowned Brazilian football coach set up a game of Futsal, and then sat back and said nothing. He just let them play.
This wildly different coaching style was achieving the same result. There is only one-way of playing the violin correctly, so it is necessary to fire a very precise set of constant neural pathways, very precisely and often in order to improve so the coach was constantly tweaking and refining technique on the fly. Daniel Coyle said “if you were to see the neural pathways associated with a violinist, they would ‘look like an oak tree; a solid trunk of technique growing straight upwards. When a violinist players an A Minor chord, it will always be an A Minor chord and not a smidgen off”
However, of a football player’s circuitry, Coyle said “the ideal circuitry is varied and fast … if ideal soccer circuitry was rendered as an electrician’s blueprint, it would look like a gargantuan hedge of ivy vines; a vast, inter-connected network of equally accessible possibilities (a.k.a fakes and moves). A footballer is not learning a constant skill, and needs a huge number of flexible neural circuits to fire in order to perform.
So the Brazilian football coach allowed the requisite neural circuits to fire by letting the players experience the game, and by giving them the opportunity to get repetition of touches, decision making and the game. No intervention was deemed necessary, because he had set up the practice (Futsal game) to deliver the required outcome. For kids, I believe that this idea of letting them play without interference is not only beneficial, but also more enjoyable.
So when I tried to take this learning and look at my current football coaching through that lens, I started to think about the constant, variable and random practices that are taught on the FA Youth Award modules. I can see a pattern for intervention forming in my mind now.
Constant practice is designed to just do one thing well. So for example, passing back and forth with a team-mate, to hone technique. Because there is a right way to do that, perhaps more intervention from a coach would be appropriate here?
Random practices however, such as a small-sided games, needs little or no intervention because the players are practicing the game of football, and need to be left to experience situations and to make decisions and learn from them. Flexible neural circuits are constantly firing, and although we can’t see it happening, they are learning as a result.
I would recommend The Talent Code to any coach. I have just ordered another of Daniel Coyle’s book’s, The Little Book of Talent, and can’t wait to get stuck into that next!
Agree? Disagree? Got another take on this? As always please join the conversation in the comments!