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Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

05.07.20Coaching Athletes to Perceive: Examples w New York Red Bulls

I’ve been working a bit with New York Red Bulls to help their youth coaches teach players to watch more productively and learn more while they’re away from the game…though in fact learning to watch is just as critical once players are back. I wrote previously about some ways you could do that: specifically by asking players to watch steadily for one single thing and study it in a disciplined way. My example was watching for first touch.

Today I thought I’d share some examples of Red Bulls youth coaches putting these ideas into practice.

These two clips are of Max DuBane. The two clips are from the same session. I think it’s worth watching them both and doing a little compare and contrast.

In both clips, Max is laser focused on a study of the players first touch- a relatively unsexy first touch as it happens. This isn’t a study of Mo Salah’s once in a lifetime first touch to crack open the defense on an epic goal, it’s the kid of unremarkable first touch that happens a thousand times in every match and that good players use to gain slight advantages for their team and that lesser players fail to attend to. So I love his choices.

In both clips Max is careful to always have players looking at what they are talking about. He freezes the screen just after the first touch. Our goal is to build perception so all of the benefit accrues to the associations we make with what we are looking at.

In both cases Max draws players’ attention to both what they player with the ball does and what the context around him signals. This is perhaps most visible in the first clip. The point is that while one would ordinarily want to take space if one could, here the center back realizes his team is not set. His first touch is designed to slow play down. The context determines the right move and Max brilliantly spends most of his time studying the cues off the ball that tell the center back he should delay.

Also notice from a teaching perspective how fast Max moves and how he engages all players, mostly via Cold Call. This is important. The game requires you to be mentally ready always, so should film study. Fittingly Max often cold Calls a player to develop what the previous player said. To work together, teammates must learn to listen to one another as much as the coach. Max is building that culture even here.

Now some key differences:

In the second clip, Max asks players to study what did happen (Keeper rolls to outside back. Outside back passes out of pressure on first touch. Why did he do that? What can you observe about his pass? In the first clip Max starts before the touch. What should the center back do with this touch? BOTH of these ways of watching are valuable.

In the first clip there is a clear right answer Max ‘stamps the learning.’ There is a clear right answer here. The first touch must be slow. In the second clip Max is more open ended. Perhaps the outside back could have tried to play forward and beat his man. There were options.

Notice also how Max continually refers to and uses background knowledge in the second clip. There are five factors to consider in your first touch and he begins by asking which one is relevant in the player’s first touch. His goal is to reinforce those five factors in players long term memory as much as study this single moment. Similarly he wants players to see the potential 2v1 developing and he’s quick to ask them to name it “What’s that called?” When you have a name for something you can being to see it and talk about it.

I’ve got some more video of another Red Bulls coach, Anton McCafferty doing a great job with this as well and will post ASAP. Meanwhile thanks to Max, Kika, Rich, Bryan and Anton for all the learning.

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