So you’re trying to figure out how to help your athletes continue to develop and stay connected during the COVID downtime.
One of the most productive things you could do would be to teach players to perceive the game better. The quality of an athlete’s perception is among the most under-rated determinants of their performance. You can get lucky once or twice but if you’re not seeing the game well your decisions are going to be poor.
Watching the game regularly can make athletes more perceptive about playing the game, but it won’t do so automatically. Just having a ‘watch party’ won’t make anyone better unless you approach it intentionally. If you did you could make a lot of headway teaching them to watch and to see more productively.
For example here are some tasks you could give soccer players to do either solo or in groups.
Ask players to spend ten minutes watching deliberately for one and only one thing. For example at a watch party: “For the next ten minutes I want you to watch every player’s first touch and think about where he played it and why.”
- I’ll let the tape roll for 3 mins without stopping it just so you can begin to make some observations. Jot them down. Great, Jason what did you notice? What about you Carly?
- Great. For the next 3 minutes I am going to stop the video just after a first touch and I’ll ask some of you to explain why you think the player did what they did with their first touch. After we discuss an example I will give you a statement I think is accurate about the first touch and I want you to complete a ‘Because but so’ exercise is writing and text it to me. So for this first one we see Xavi touch the ball forward about four yards into space. You’re going to complete three sentences: 1) Xavi touched the ball about four yards forward into space because there was no one around him and he wanted to go straight at the goal. 2) Xavi touched the ball about four yards forward into space but he angled the ball slightly away from the nearest defender 3) Xavi touched the ball about four yards forward into space so the defenders collapsed towards the ball and passing lanes were opened.
- Great, Now for the next 3 minutes I am going to stop the video just before the first touch and you are going to try to predict what the player will do and why. We’ll do two or three just chatting and then I’ll ask you to text me what you think will happen with a ‘Because, But, So…” As in: “I think he’s going to lay the ball off to Iniesta with the first touch because he is under pressure and appears to be deliberately looking away from Iniesta.” And ” I think he’s going to lay the ball off to Iniesta with the first touch but he might have to disguise the pass because th space is tight.” Etc.
- Great. Now we’ll watch for a few minutes without pauses but I want you to keep watching only first touches so you make a habit of seeing them. Try to predict and analyze. This will help you to discipline yourself to watch the game technically and will help you develop eyes for first touch. At the end you can text me your single biggest observation.
You could do the same thing for tactical defensive positioning, defensive body position, movement off the ball by supporting players, movement after the pass by the passing player, etc etc. OR you could watch for formation and group tactical approaches. OR you could ask players to watch a single player whether or not he was on the ball (easier if you have an all-11 camera angle).
The idea is that you are teaching players to watch the game technically, forensically rather than just watching.
- A single focus for a sustained time.
- Stoppages to discuss.
- Discussion and or writing to process and instill in memory
- This is also a great opportunity to build and reinforce shared vocabulary– as in “What he’s doing here is called receiving “side on”: it allows him to have the option of turning either way with the ball and allows him to shield. I want you to try to use that phrase in your discussions…
You could ask players to do this on their own, or do a group watch party on zoom or similar or even ask them to do it in pairs. But there’s a lot of upside to teaching players how to watch and what to watch for rather than just chilling and rooting for Man City or Arsenal