Football theory?

Even if the ? wasn’t there, you still would read it with some questioning and ‘what?’.

As “the year of education” continues, a group of our Hotspurs coaches spent a day focused on Football Theory with Raymond Verheijen of the World Football Acadamy.

It’s important to us that our players, families, and interested fans of the game know about the growth and direction of our club as we continue to develop our identity and style in Pittsburgh. Here’s a tiny bit of what we spent the day digesting:

Key takeaways:

  • It’s football, not soccer
  • Need to be objective to raise the bar
  • Reflection is how we all learn — as coaches, we need to practice what we preach

A Universal Language

Around the world, we all play the same game. We have the same ‘what’– 11 players using communication, making and executing decisions to get the round object in the rectangular object, more times than the opposition. Yet, in the United States particularly, we don’t even call the game the same thing as much of the world.

As you break the game down further, you’ll hear different coaches and clubs refer to the same ideas by differing names. Players are expected to know what each means and attempt to be successful in any environment. So to set them up for success, should we not have a universal language?

Raymond points to examples of Navy Seals and pilots to drive home the point. Regardless of where a pilot trains, he’s trained the same way using a structured system that translates across borders. When it comes to soccer, the creativity lies in ‘how’ a team executes X, Y, Z to see success, but on the surface level, we aren’t even calling a plane a plane like the rest of the world is.

What we’re doing at Hotspurs: From phase to phase, we’ve established set team targets that are associated with specific phrases. While players are coached by various coaches within their phase, and then move to a new set of specialist coaches phrasing remains consistent. Terminology like ‘breaking the first line’ and ‘building out from the back’ is taught even to our youngest players. It’s not on a universal level, but on a club level, we’re creating greater cohesion.

Objectivity in Soccer Football

To grow as coaches, we continue to add new ‘experiences’ and ideas to our soccer.. err… I mean football brain. The importance, however, is to objectively look at those experiences. 

For example, when looking at the idea of players completing a “passing” pattern. Based on the logical structure of football Raymond shared, this is not passing, but instead merely kicking a ball. To make a football pass, you need an opponent, need to communicate, and make a decision. All which we agree are main components of the game. The pattern helps a player work on individual technique. However, this can also be taught in other group activities that provide players the opportunity to make a decision and communicate with a teammate while executing that technique.

This is not to say that a player can not work on individual technique. Raymond challenges the need for an entire team to work on individual technique at the same level/rate. With players progressing at various rates, some players will benefit from passing under pressure, while others may need to step aside and work on their plant foot, strike on the ball, etc. As a coach, it’s our responsibility to determine where our players are and adjust accordingly and as objectively as possible. 

What we’re doing at Hotspurs: We aim to use the game as much as possible to progress our athletes. Through small-sided games, players can work on first touch, passing accuracy, supporting angles, etc. All of course while under pressure in a situation where they have to make a decision to determine how to be successful.

We recognize that a passing pattern has benefits in forming habits, but too, in a real game, the conditions are unpredictable, and a pattern that worked once, may not work again. It’s equipping our players with the tools to determine in each situation, what works best.

Reflection to grow

Coaching courses often involve coaches being ‘taught’ subjective approaches to the game. The instructor has seen great success doing A, B, C. They explain this, and the coaches are ‘taught’ to recite it back to earn their next license. This is not learning. This is not applying the information to each coaches unique conditions.

In any coaching course, we as coaches need to soak in what is taught but stop and reflect on how to incorporate to be a better coach and develop stronger players. The same goes for how we present the information to our players. By asking them questions that provide them the opportunity to uncover the logical, objective response, they’re better able to learn the game.

We as coaches, need to require the same standards of learning of ourselves as we do of our players — and that means continually reflecting on what we’re taught, what we see working, etc. 

What we’re doing at Hotspurs: From our sidelines, at practice and games, you’ll hear instruction and guidance. But, by creating a training environment full of decision making, we’re setting players up to make decisions when playing.

We use our team targets to help guide players in recognizing our style of play. In halftime and post-game chats, we engage players in questions to ideally get them reflecting on what they just learned/executed and determine how best to use that skill/knowledge in future situations.

So how does this all tie back to football theory? Honestly, I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what we covered in our day with Raymond. Football theory is a bit of an untapped world here in the US. But, by coaches studying the game more philosophically as well as tactically, we can develop our club identity, and continue to shift the level of footballers coming out of the Pittsburgh area.