"Football is a game you play with your brain" - Johan Cruyff

     Let’s repeat that quote from one of the greatest football players ever, “Football is a game you play with your brain.” …AND…one more time, just to ensure it sinks in: “Football is a game you play with your brain!” What a powerful statement from one of the best players in the history of this beautiful game.  It is so true, and not because Cruyff said it. It just is.  What’s unfortunate about the truthfulness of this statement is the fact that there are too many coaches in involved in the game that either A.) Aren’t even aware this statement of fact even existsB.) Know it exists, but don’t believe it to be a statement of factC.) Know it existsAND believe it to be a statement of fact, but don’t care to act on it OR D.) Know it exists, believe it is a statement of fact, want to act on it, but don’t know how to train this element of the game. Even more unfortunate, is the correlated fact that there are even fewer coaches who actually understand the vital importance of the game played between the ears in comparison to between the lines and who incorporate more training for the game played above the neck than they do or the game played below the neck.  Is it ironic that these select few coaches are also the same coaches that we consider to be the elite coaches in today’s game? Is it a coincidence that these are the same coaches we consider to be the most successful? I think not!

     When I am recruiting, scouting or evaluating a player (which has been the composition of more than half my coaching career recently, so I'd like to think it’s one of my strengths) there are three things and three things only, which I look for initially. A.) Can the player play out of pressure with a purpose? B.) Is their first-touch intelligent? C.) Can they problem-solve? Most of the time, I can find numerous players who qualify for A and B. However, it is often a player’s inability to qualify for C that separates them from the rest…and…this is wherein the issue lies. 

     In football, decision making or rather; problem-solving, is the process of thinking about a certain action - such as engaging a defender, inserting the right textured ball or where to place an attempt to finish and then choosing the right action to take according to the situation the player finds themselves in.

I Robot or Ferris Buehler?

     Twenty some years ago, when I was younger and coming up as a player, a football training session usually took one of two forms:

1.) We (players) would jog a few laps around the field, do some “gym-class style” stretches and then I remember spending an extensive amount of time standing in lines waiting to be told the "best" way to strike a ball or to receive it. 

2.) We would be broken up into two teams and would just scrimmage the entire practice while the coach watched and occasionally tossed in a few comments like, "you don't do it that way"' or "that’s not how it should be done.” 

     In these older days that now only exist in our memories, players were told NOT to play a ball to a teammate who was tightly marked. However, today, we see the top teams at any level playing all sorts of balls to teammates and many whom are surrounded by the opposition. Regardless of the defensive pressure, these players are able to receive the ball, control it and move on.

      Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved my coaches (at least most of them – there is still one nimrod that to this day makes me cringe – but I digress) and I was then and am now, thankful for the time they put in WITHOUT any sort of financial compensation.  Without the influence of these ‘Men,’ I would not be the person I am today.  I don’t believe I would be coaching today if it weren’t for them.  Sometimes, I’ll hear others reminisce about their youth soccer coaches and all that comes off their lips is negative speak. “They did this” and “They were horrible” and “They wouldn’t be given a recreational team today.” Just snide and disrespectful comments.  Maybe they had horrible experiences with their coaches as a young player? Maybe I am one of the lucky few that doesn’t feel that way?  Either way, there always seems to be one comment that is made in these types of conversations that always makes me chuckle: “I am a better coach because I learned how NOT to do things from them.  While that statement has some credence and I could make the same statement like it was fact from my own experiences, I tend to look at it from the opposite point-of-view: I wouldn’t be a coach if they hadn’t been a coach. 

     You see, I don’t place any blame on my youth coaches in any way, shape or form for the way they structured their training sessions and how they coached.  I have learned through my own coaching experiences that whatever faults in the methodology and pedagogy they had weren’t really any fault of their own, but rather a fault of the system they were ‘forced’ into. Most soccer coaches of this period had never played the game and were sometimes coaching off VCR tapes or out of books.  So, because they were limited in their knowledge base and thus their ability and confidence to teach the game, they would resort to what they did know…American Football.  

     The United States is an American Football culture.  It is hard-hitting with helmets, pads and loud in your face coaching. You’ve seen the movies and trust me; they’re truer than you may think.  It was the characteristics of this same culture that were being carried over to the training pitches of world football.  Why?  Because they didn’t know any better.  It was that simple!

     Despite this ‘boring’ and ‘monotonous’ type of training, coaches (and teammates, re; players) never really had to be concerned about attendance at training. I never recall that ever being an issue.  I remember almost always having a full-compliment of teammates at every-session. In addition, being late was almost unheard of and was an unspeakable act.  In looking back, my coaches never needed to be concerned if a teammate or I weren’t smiling or enjoying ourselves…and…some just didn’t care! 

     Why? Why was that? Why was it not a concern in the ‘good old days?’  Why weren’t coaches burdened with these issues as they are now, especially when training-sessions are much more advanced and organized than those in the days of old? The answer is simple, figuratively and literally. The world we lived in was a simpler place back then. There were fewer distractions to pull the players' interests in one direction or another. There was no Xbox. There was no iPhone. There were no high-powered computers and definitely no high-speed Internet. There were hardly any televised football matches to watch (while this was a major point of contention for football people at the time, in reality it actually assisted the game to an extent). Boys were grateful to be given the chance to kick a ball around the park and girls... well… girls just didn't play football anyway.  I only remember two females ever playing on the same team as I. One was on my High-School team and the other was on a lower-level club side.  I didn’t see an organized all-female soccer team until was a sophomore in college. 

     Unfortunately, time doesn’t heal all wounds, as we still see this style of coaching even today. However, it's as old fashioned as cassette tapes and rotary-dial telephones.

     In today’s game, football coaches need more than a bag of balls, some cones and bibs and a loud voice. They have to plan stimulating training sessions and make the game as attractive and enjoyable as the cornucopia of other sports, extra-curricular activities and interests that are available to the player of today. 

     Still, clever training sessions, different methodologies and adapting philosophies just aren’t enough. Today’s coaches must take an interest in their players as human beings. Today’s coaches must be patient and above all, today’s coaches must allow their players to have fun. 

     Yet still, that is not even enough.  Not to complicate or convolute the process, but rather to improve it’s effectiveness and efficiency, today’s coaches also must generate training environments where players can discover their own answers to the problems they face in the game of football, instead of making them stand in lines like Storm Trooper looking robots in front of Will Smith, waiting to be told what to do.  Answer me this: would you rather have a team of robots or a team of Matthew Brodericks’, all with their own unique personalities and genuine creativity?  Bueller?  Bueller?  Bueller?  

The Game Itself is No Longer the Best Teacher 

     As those old fashioned, early styles of training and the philosophies and methodologies that accompanied them evolved, the philosophy that the game itself should be what actually teaches the players and not the coach eventually became the prevalent way of thinking. Coaching became more about “effect” and less about “cause.” 

     However, as happens in all changing of the guards, this philosophy of "let the game be the teacher" has unfortunately become more of a cliché in today’s football coaching world and sadly, it's given lazy coaches an excuse to do nothing except mark out a pitch, toss their players a ball and hope that they will learn the skills they need all by themselves.  While there is an extreme amount of validity to this "street soccer” approach, if a coach is just going to sit-back and text while drinking lemonade in the shade, then the players are better served getting together on their own and playing pick-up.  Herein lies the conundrum.  Today’s youth just won’t do that.  With all of the other distractions and activities they can take part in, they just won’t play on their own as much as they should.  So, the best way to compensate for this dilemma is through the coach, who serves as the linkage that activates the alchemy of the free-flowing essence of street soccer and the organization of training session.  Never the less, what we don’t want our coaches to squelch while they step in between the two elements is the freedom, creativity, personality and problem-solving ability of their players. 

     Never the less, the methodology behind the pedagogy of allowing the players to learn within the confines of the game itself is not faulty. You see; letting the game be the teacher can work. It has worked.  It is currently working and it will continue to work. It is an extremely powerful Player Development tool. However, it is only effective in Developing Players if the coach places the players in situations where they must solve-problems within the parameters of the game. Yet, that itself is still not enough. The coach must also be both willing and able to help their players find the answers they are seeking to the problems they face. 

     Education experts tell us that a healthy student can better handle the rigors of education. The same correlative applies to football players; a healthy (re; properly trained from a physical, technical, tactical, emotional AND psychological standpoint) footballer can better handle the rigors of the next level of play. 

 Guided Discovery 

     In looking at the most effective and efficient ways to help best develop the problem-solving skills of our players, we need to look no further than an establishment that has been around since mankind first decided to live in groups and form civilizations: the education system and more specifically, the teacher-student relationship. 

     Regardless of the ongoing arguments of whether “teachers" are paid enough, one thing that is as much a certainty as death and taxes is the fact that our society will always NEEDteachers and thus, a teacher’s job security becomes paramount to their actual pay scale – especially in today’s struggling economy.  With that effervescent and ever growing need for ‘teachers’ also comes the correlative requirement that there are always be new and improved teaching philosophies, methodologies and pedagogy.  As is always the case when something new becomes evident, eventually the old tends to fade away (re: the evolution of the compact disc and the virtual disappearance of the cassette tape). This, combined with the consistent and unwavering NEED for quality educators lends us some valuable tools that coaches can and should be using.

     One such teaching “technique” that has become quite prevalent in today’s schools is a concept called “Guided Discovery.”  Guided Discovery is an "active learning" technique in which students are asked open questions that encourage them to work out answers for themselves.

     Guided Discovery, when done correctly, leads a child/student/player to do three things.First, it makes them THINKSecondly, it makes them CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES to the question or problem they face and thirdly, it allows them to TEST THE SOLUTIONS they come up with. 

     Now, Guided Discovery is not necessarily a new concept.  As the game progresses we’ll continue to slip in and out of different training mechanisms such as whole-part-whole,rehearse-restart-replaycoaching in the game, etc…yet, as mentioned earlier, one of the key ingredients to Proper Player Development is how savvy or smart a player is once the whistle blows and the game is in their hands. 

     Some of the greatest football minds have introduced, discussed, taught and even used guided discovery with great success. Sam SnowUS Youth Soccer Director of Coaching Education, talks adamantly about this process. Jose Mourinho, one of the most successful current professional coaches, talks in-depth about his methods on Guided Discovery.Mourinho has refined and perfected these methods over time spanning from when he was atFC Porto, won four championships and his eventual move to Chelsea FC. In fact, the positive effects of Guided Discovery on Player Development has become so evident that it has even been incorporated into licensing course curriculum in Asia, Europe and the United States. 

      In looking at this proven educational method from the perspective of a football coach, it isn’t difficult to see how Guided Discovery can develop the minds of your players and enable them to anticipate and react to situations they encounter in a game. All without waiting to be told what to do. 

It’s not easy: Even Ferris Buehler Almost Didn’t Pull it Off 

     Guided Discovery is not an easy option for any coach.  Even a coach such as myself, who has a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology, finds it intensive and sometimes simply frustrating.  As with any skill, the more you use it, the better you become at it.  The basic process of ‘trial and error’ can be a great tool to help you use a teaching technique such as Guided Discovery more efficiently. 

     Any coach who uses Guided Discovery has to learn three vital pieces to the puzzle before they can begin to see how effective the method is.

     First, the coach must make a decision as to what exactly they want their players to discover in the session. What is the “objective?”  Without first determining the objective of the session, you’ll be doing nothing more than spinning your wheels in the mud. What is meant by “objective” in the context of guided discovery is different than the definition most people have for “objective.” To open the door for your players to develop the soccer smarts you’re looking for, the objective cannot be a single fact (i.e., single skill, single tactic, etc…)NOR can it be achieved with a yes or no answer. The objective needs to be a tactical strategyor something related to the principles of play.

     Once a coach has decided what they want their players to accomplish - the objective, the next-step is to plan a training session that will continuously and consistently place the players in situations where they will have no option but to problem-solve and figure things out on their own. All aspects of the training session need to lead the players in the direction of Guided Discovery.  In the direction of the objective. Think of it this way; the training-session is symbolic of the player reaching a fork in the road.  A coach can either tell the player to take the road that goes to the right…or…they can offer the pros and cons to taking each road, stand back and let the player make the best decision on their own. 

     The third-step is usually the most difficult and where coaches tend to more often than not give-up on the process. Once an objective has been determined and the training session has been planned in a way that puts players in a position where they’re forced to problem-solve(i.e., think); coaches then need to learn how to ask the “right” questions at the “right” moments. Guided Discovery is more involved than just “letting the game be the teacher.” 

     Coaches need to teach their players how to create space when tightly marked and establish a training environment that will allow them to learn how to remain relaxed when receiving the ball in these situations. It is vital that players are put under pressure in training, so that when a situation occurs in a match, they will understand how they have to react.     

     One of the best tools available to place players into the functional situations needed to force them to solve problems is the Small-Sided Game. Any small-sided game consistently leads to situations where the coach can pose the question(s) that will lead the player(s) to the solution he is HOPING they will discover. However, HOPING is not enough. The coach must always place conditions and/or restrictions on the players that will force them into the desired situation(s) where they will have no option but to put thought into what they are doing…OR…fail! 

The questions (not the game) are the best teacher

     When the players are in a situation where they need to solve a problem in order to succeed, is the point where the coach can really begin to ‘guide’ them towards ‘discovering’ the ‘objective.’ The coach should use what are called “leading questions.” Leading Questions are questions that have no single, correct answer and are questions whose answers will in turn lead to other questions and so on… However, the coach needs to be careful to stop before they reach a point where they are “pushing” their players a direction, rather than “leading” them a direction. Then, the coach can simply take a step-back and allow the players to figure out the rest.  It’s similar to the old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Coaches can put their players into situations where they become ‘thirsty’ and then lead them to water, but instead of handing them a cup, allow them to figure out how they are going to get some water and quench their thirst. 

     Now, let’s take a look at some examples of what would be quality ‘leading questions.’ I like to use what I call the W-H-O method when questioning. The “W” stands for ‘who,’ ‘what, ‘why,’ ‘when’ and ‘where.’ The “H” stands for the ‘how’ and the “O” stands for ‘options.’  I don’t want my players to just be puppets on a string that I control like chess-pieces.  I want them to know WHAT they’re doing, WHY they’re doing it, WHEN it should be down, WHERE it should be done or go, HOW it should be done and what their OPTIONS are. If I always ask a question that includes one of these words, then I ensure I will never ask a question that can be answered with either a ‘yes or no’ answer or without the player thinking through possible responses. This type of questioning turns what may be considered a miss-played ball into a properly played ball, but also a ball that might be better served played elsewhere the next time.  Because questions have a sub-conscious negative connotation, wording them this way, alleviates any sort of apprehension a question may create. 

Here are some specific examples of some quality leading questions: 

“Who else could be options for you to play the ball to?” 

“What can we do to get the ball to our attackers more quickly?”

“Why is it important to have your head up when you have the ball?”

“When would it be appropriate to step-up in this situation?”

“Where would be a better position to switch fields from here?”

“How do you think we can do it quicker this time?”

     Not one of these questions can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or without the player putting some sort of thought into their response.

     Not to make it more complicated, but rather more effective, coaches need to recognize that the questions themselves aren’t fully enough to really guide our players where we want them to go.  Your players must feel comfortable making their own suggestions. The training environment must be one that precludes that the players understand that there are NO wrong answers, nothing is considered a ‘mistake’ and there is no risk of being ostracized by teammates or coaches. 

     Coaches need to continuously encourage their players to feel free to offer up their own suggestions by listening to them carefully and always responding in a positive manner. Anytime a player suggests something, the coach should “thank” them for their contribution and then use that opportunity as an open door to roll right into a leading question, such as: "That's a good idea! What else do you think we could do?

     The type of responses that we offer our players MUST be in-line with the type of questioning. With this in-mind, let’s go back to our previous leading questions and use them to look at some examples of positive responses that will also encourage your players:

“Great. So who else could be an option to play that ball to?”

“I like that answer. What else can we do to get the ball to our attackers quicker?”

“OK…you’re starting to pick it up. When would be another good situation for us to step-up?”

“Now you're getting the idea! Why else would we need to keep our head up when we have the ball?”

“How can we do it even quicker than we just did it?” 

     Equally as important as the questions and the positive responses that will guide your players, is the recognition of some common ‘errors’ coaches make which inhibit the results ofGuided Discovery and sometimes, cease the results all together. The two most common mistakes, which also happen to be the two most deadly errors in the process of Guided Discovery, that a coach can make, are:

     * Not allowing the player enough time to hear, process and then respond to a question before the coach interjects with what they think is the correct answer.

     * Becoming too reliant on the process and thus, too eager with their motives, where they end convoluting the player’s thought process by asking too many “good” leading questions in too short of a span of time.

"I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn." – Albert Einstein

 


     Guided Discovery is a suitable and very effective coaching method regardless of whatever level, gender or age you are coaching.

     Our youngest players are actually some of the players that seem to respond the best to Guided Discovery. If the appropriate language and demeanor is used, our youth players as young as four or five-years-old can be asked simpler leading questions that will lead them to discover how to pass the ball, dribble, receive, etc… 

     Regardless of how skilled a coach becomes with this process, they need to remember that Guided Discovery is an individualistic teaching practice and not one meant for larger groups such as teams or even smaller groupings within teams. The primary reason Guided Discovery works best with individual players rather than with large groups is based around whom the leading questions are directed and how a coach knows whether a player is heading towards the objective In groups, only some of the players "discover" the answer. The rest hear the answer and accept it as fact rather than discovering it for themselves.  This is no different than a coach just telling them in the first-place and ends up becoming nothing more than that same chess-match on puppet strings.

     With that being said, helping our players develop the problem-solving skills and soccer smarts they need to continue raising their level of play is paramount to anything else we can teach them. Asking them the right questions and letting them play the game is always preferable to telling them what to do.

     Now that we’ve discussed the underlying fabric of developing the intellectual aspect of a player’s personality, let’s take a look at what I consider to be the 8 (eight) key traits of a player’s game that display their level of football intelligence.  

Mentality of a WinnerPlayers with this mentality will do whatever it takes to win. Many coaches try and create a processed concoction of “winning” and “competitive drive.” However, this is a trait that most players just have and not one that can really be taught.  In most cases, the extreme self-motivation level that these players possess becomes one of the strongest attributes to their development.    

     Distinguishing between ‘winning’ and ‘competitive drive’ can be confusing to coaches and players alike.  Never the less, this mentality is what a player must have to continue developing.  This means that coaches must be looking for players that have the ingredients of a ‘winning mentality.’  To make things easier and more efficient, this is an attribute that should be looked for during the initial evaluation process, whether it is during recruiting, try-outs, team selection, etc…

     For example, I look for players whom have a high-rate of ‘transition’ from defense to offense.  That split-second when a player loses the ball and their body has to suddenly stop, change direction and then reaccelerate the opposite way is gut-wrenching.  Because thistransition is so fast, it is more of a subconscious act.  This is what separates so many players.  It is the “watermark” of both an individual player and even a team.  Most players use this microsecond of ‘transitional’ time to take a break, rest, relax, etc… It is human nature to take shortcuts and we will all do it, without even knowing it, whenever we have the opportunity. Players whom display the ability to make this physically painful and psychological excruciating transition faster are the ones whom also don’t like to get beat and refuse to be beaten. 

ExperienceIt is said that nothing can account for experience and there is quite a bit of truth to that saying. The more a player plays the game, the more they will learn what works, what doesn’t work, what they are capable of and what they aren’t capable of. As a coach, training-sessions should push the player’s boundaries. By stretching their envelope and getting them to train on their edge, you will help enhance what it is they gain from experience. Coaches need to put their players in as many different situations as possible during training, in order for them to best learn how to respond to the problems they will face in the game.  Experience is reciprocal with decision-making than it is with anything else. 

     Football is such fast-moving game that this decision making process has to be performed very quickly. However, fast decision-making requires experience, which is the one thing young players who are new to the game don't possess.

     The minds of youth players are easily distracted and their attention spans can sometimes be virtually non-existent. Too often, I see (re; hear) coaches and parents shouting directions and instructions at them while they are trying to play a match, which compounds the “problem-solving” issue. Do these coaches and parents (who may have the best interests of the player in mind and just be either naïve or ignorant…or both…) realize the amount of stress they are generating for the player from the "advice" being barked out from the sidelines? Combine this with the player’s lack of experience and you’ll get a formula that makes gooddecision making virtually impossible.

     This stress and the tension that accompanies it will undoubtedly slow a player's decision-making ability.  This is especially true if they are learning new skills in training activities that present them with too many choices.

     It is therefore, essential that coaches and spectators DO NOT try to instruct while the ball is in play.

ConfidencePlayers must have confidence not just in their own skills and abilities, but also in the map they are following and it’s accuracy in getting them there; to the objective.  They also must have confidence in their ability to overcome any obstacles they will face and their ability to rebound from any setbacks. Confidence is such a huge part of a player being able to even receive the ball, more-less do something with it.

     An important aspect of confidence is what type of response will the player have when they make a mistake? A confident player will have a positive reaction to mistakes.  It has been proven that around 80 percent of a person’s learning involves their self-efficacy. One way to easily identify players whom are lacking in confidence is when they will call for the ball. Unconfident players will often only call for the ball when they are in a lot of space and not under immediate pressure. In comparison, players with a lot of confidence won’t hesitate to call for a ball when under pressure. They possess the confidence to receive the ball at their feet, even if they have very little room to work.

     Most players will not tell a coach or teammate about confidence issues simply because they assume their level of confidence is normal. That’s why confidence is such a difficult piece to the puzzle from even a sport psychology standpoint – because it is such a difficult thing to identify and thus, treat. Therefore, all coaches should assume their players “lack self-confidence” initially and approach training with that mindset to start.  That will ensure that a player’s confidence is not unintentionally negated any further.  Attacking a player’sconfidence, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can be a career-ending move in relation to the player.   

CouragePlayers need to set goals that are achievable, yet attainable.  These goals need to push the player’s limits and stretch them, but they also need to be able to reach them.  They can’t be achieved easily and thus a player needs to have the courage to face these goals head-on. 

     Possessing a true passion for the sport is essential to developing courage.  Courage is being willing to push their limits.  Courage is being willing to fail.  Courage is putting in the work on those things that will test them mentally. Courage is being willing to ask more questions than can be answered.   Courage in a player will develop with their focused increase in concentration, maintaining emotional stability and establishing productive behavior.  

     To encourage players to develop their own level of courage, training-sessions should be as stress-free as possible. Now, don’t misunderstand me. By no means am I saying that training sessions shouldn’t be competitive. On the contrary, I believe that training sessions should be more competitive that the match itself. Training activities should always involve an element of competition. However, competition should be just that that and when it influences a player’s level of courage, it has crossed a dangerous threshold.

Field AwarenessPlayers with a higher football IQ also show the uncanny ability to process the game several steps in advance.  Most players can learn to read the game one or two steps into the future, but some develop some develop the ability to also identify potential obstacles and opportunities well in advance.  Some can even do so with only a quick glance over the field. 

     Unfortunately, there is not much a coach can do to directly influence players “field awareness.” However, the more a coach allows a player to just play and the less a coach interferes with what is happening, the better suited the environment is for a player to develop a higher-level of field awareness. Sometimes I feel like carrying a roll of duct-tape with me to tournaments so I can tape the mouths shut of coaches and parents. Coaches especially, need to learn to shut their mouths and stay quiet while the match is in progress and only make comments sporadically while the match is in play, during the half time interval, to players that are entering or have exited the match or to the substitutes on the sideline who are watching the game.

     The ability of a player to process the game in this manner is a huge piece that separates them from others when comparing their football brains. 

CreativityResearch consistently shows that ‘creativity’ has a direct correlation with someone’s ability to learn. Thus, a players ability to read match situations, make decisions within the flow of the game and be confident in those decisions, solve problems within the game as they develop and be confident in the solutions they come up with, as well as having a keen understanding of how the game is unfolding, is essential to developing their football mind. 

     Creative players have this ‘special awareness.’ An awareness that experience alone cannot teach. Even seemingly light training activities can help a player pay attention longer, read the game with better comprehension than when sedentary, and also for longer periods of time.  As players grow older and are forced to reduce the amount of time they apply towards certain aspects of their development in order to make room for meeting other developmental standards it becomes imperative that coaches allow time for active play and proper coaching integration within the training session. 

MemoryWhether a player is attacking, defending, serving or dribbling, it is their ability to recall what they have learned that allows them to perform at a higher level of play. Memory, also known as “Pattern Recognition,” comes into play when a player is able to sense space that could be exploited without really having to perform any sort of mental calculations. ThisPattern Recognition is manifested in players when they think, "Ok, I've seen this before. This is what worked and this is what didn't.

     Recalling bright clothing, how something looked, what teammates were doing and how they themselves were feeling, may seem simple.  However, these simplistic stimuli are very important for a player's mental processing speed and speed of recollection during a mental sensory congested environment of a match.  

Self-ReflectionThe ability to look at oneself in the mirror and accept or agree to change what you see is something that not enough people, more less players, are able to do. The mentally strong players that exist in this game have the ability to self-reflect upon themselves by breaking down and analyzing their own performance and what needs to be done in order to improve.  To better develop the game played between the ears, players should seek out information from any source, no matter whom or where it comes from.

     It is this “open-mindedness” that causes players to respond differently when in similar situations. 

     Some players develop anxiety regarding matches or their competitive interactions with other players. This anxiety can be relieved if coaches will lead their players towards an objective. If we, as coaches, can identify where players are at in the specific development of their football intelligence, evaluate them properly in this capacity and then establish the proper training environment for their continued cognitive development, then we can diminish the physical signs of internal emotions that may be expressed by players.  It is imperative that coaches take time to speak with their players about any fears or frustrations regarding the training environment.  They also need to continuously monitor and immediately address any signs of regression or a lack of progression in a player’s mental development.  

     A training environment that will always challenge players both mentally and physically, while also contributing to maintaining their football brain is a necessity for a coach. Coaches need to lay a good foundation of training to develop their players’ football brains.  This begins with establishing an objective and then guiding them to discover what they may. 


* special thanks the intelligent minds who frequent the "andagain Coaching Forum" for their assistance with this piece.