Tag Archive for 'soccer'

Book review: Soccer Speed

Soccer Speed

Richard Bate and Ian Jeffreys

2015, pp. 216

Champaign, IL, Human Kinetics

Why is Speed so important in today’s soccer?

Definitely during its history, soccer has changed in the rules of the game, in sportswear and footwear, in game organisation. But there are other key factors that differentiate modern soccer:

  • Today’s game is quicker; specifically, both ball speed (as it travels from player to player) and players own movements are much faster than they were even just 10 or 15 years ago.
  • Players now regularly cover distances between 9-14 km per game, because they are running faster and moving more often.
  • The game features of today’s attack are the accuracy and speed to pass the ball.
  • The typical characteristic of a player has also evolved into a quicker, more agile and physically sculpted athlete.

So Speed is a vital commodity for players who want to maximize their performance.

In soccer we’re talking about Game speed, in other words the speed requirements for soccer are different compared the practice by track athletes; indeed, the player during the game moves in an open environment in which distance, direction and starting pattern all vary from moment to moment. In addiction, the athlete’s movements need to be linked with game skill requirements. Maximum speed and Acceleration (two important terms related to running speed) are performed to accomplish a soccer-specific task, such as shooting, tackling, dribbling or passing. Players are also required to change direction more than a 1000 times per game, exactly every 6-7s. Those directional movements are closely linked with the high speed actions. So it’s important the development of Agility too. For modern players Speed and Agility are two key components that contribute to the ultimate quality of performance.

Speed is important for decision making of players. The game rarely presents exactly identical situations, especially in free play, so the abilities to think and decide at speed, to act at speed, and to change decision at speed are crucial to “build” an intelligent player.

Development of Speed and Agility starts with young players coaching, remembering the essential of sensitive phases, in other words the “fertility” moments of development of physical abilities. We can start to stimulate the abilities of reaction and movements frequency (Cyclic speed) at 6 years old, even if the peak is between 9-11 years old. The rapidity of isolated movements (No-Cyclic speed) and Acceleration have their sensitive phase during 11-14 years old. After those years Speed and Agility will tend to stabilise and then decrease. So it’s vital to create right training programs that help players to maintain this capacity to high levels, remembering and following the elements of a Game speed program (technical and physical development) and the right Game speed exercise progression.

(by Michele Rosci)


Book review: One Goal – The mindset of winning soccer teams

One Goal

The mindset of winning soccer teams

Bill Beswick

Human Kinetics, 2016, p. 222

What I liked more in the book titled “One goal” by Bill Beswick is the great passion and competence that he shows in every chapter. The goal of this book is to describe why/how a psychologist has to be committed in this kind of job. The answer is that there are a lots of things to do, but only if you are passionate. This means that what you read inside, you cannot in any other book concerning performance psychology, because is coming from the application of the expertise and passion to a specific context. The second reason to read this book comes from the several professional examples that Beswick provides in each chapter. This approach is relevant because the young professional has to know that the consultant job with a team needs these skills. It means that our knowledge science-based need to be translated in terms to be useful in the everyday job with the team, the players and the head coach and probably with the team managers too. The book goes around a main focus based on two interrelated concepts: the positive environment supports the fighter mentality. Therefore the team has to share a unifying identity and culture and it must be very well clarified that the positive results come from this homogenous mindset and the viceversa is never true. So the team culture is based on common: effort, enthusiasm, execution and endurance. First the attitude, than any other specific competence (strength or focus or game schema).  At this regard, Beswick say:

“Arguably, the most successful team in international sport, the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team, clean their own locker-room after the game, showing the humility that is common to many great teams.”

Another relevant topic concerns how the coach teach individual and collective responsibility, in the first part of the book there many ideas that a coach can use to work on it, to reach this important goal. In the second part the main topic is presented in the chapter titled “Fostering coachability.” It’s a key attitude to develop a winning career. The players’ progresses depends on their coachability, that is the relatively stable position to be involved in the process of continuous improvement independently from the current skills, performance level and roles. Another important point is related to the players’ personal accountability and I agree with the Beswick’s  Ten key elements of the accountability cycle (goals and standards, reminders, culture, learning environment, accepting justified criticism, regular feedback, thunderbolts, internal challenge, can’t do or won’t do?, accountability without blame). If the team and the coach will respect these rules they will show an higher threshold for alibis, becoming more accountable and successful.  As Michael Jordan said:

“the better players learn to say «I played bad but tomorrow I’ll play better». A lot of younger players are afraid to admit they have bad nights but everybody has bad nights and it’s how you rebound from those bad nights that dictates what kind of player you are going to be.”

The third part of the book is about competition and the key words are competing cohesively, the momentum, pressure, overcoming adversity, repeat success. Also in this section Beswick shows how to apply the psychologist’s professional skills to work with a constructive approach in the most competitiveness situations, because “pressure is nothing more that the shadow of a great opportunity.”

Book review: Soccer science

Soccer Science

Tony Strudwick (Editor)

Human Kinetics, 2016, p. 649


The book is very interesting for the reason that it provides to the reader a global and in the same specific vision of what soccer is today, played by 250 million of persons in more than 200 countries. It’s the world’s most popular sport. Goal of the book is to describe how to use the scientific principles to optimize the players’ performance and the preparation. All the chapters are relevant for soccer  but in my review I selected the chapters and the topics that could be more useful for the sport psychologists. The section 2 concerns the talent selection and the player development. In the Mujika and Castagna’s chapter, titled “Practical aspects of player selection and development”,  emerges very clearly that in soccer the relative effect age continues to be a resource to select the players, influencing the drop-out at the age of 12 years and not giving the consideration needed to the role of maturation in the player development. The authors conclude that the talent identification continues to be a critical point in soccer. The following chapter by Unnithan and Iga, titled “Development of the young soccer player”, treats the development of the young soccer players, it’s an updated presentation about the integration among growth, maturation, demands of match and the physiological components concerning the youth soccer players. From the side of sport psychologist also the contribute by Paul Ford, titled “Skill acquisition and learning through practice and other activities”, provides many useful and updated information. He reviews the perceptual-cognitive skills and the decision making processes involved in what in soccer is called “reading the game” and “affecting the game.” These two processes run in parallel and interact together. The chapter presents also the two categories of activities practiced during the training to improve these skills; the drill-type activities (focused on technique and skills) and the game-based activities (containing match-like situations). The author provides also information about the situation where the players use the fast thinking, so called intuition, compared to slow thinking, called reasoning.

In the world are produced each year 85 million balls and one chapter by Andy Garland and Henry Hanson has been published in this book: “Soccer ball dynamics.” Topics like the history of soccer ball development, material, design and construction, social responsibility, ball performances are presented. Other parts of the book regard the soccer biomechanical and physiological aspects and demands, the conditioning programs, the nutritional needs, the environmental  stressor, (altitude, temperature), soccer boots and playing surfaces.

The first chapter devoted to sport psychology is by Geir Jordet, titled “Psychology and elite soccer performance.” He identified 11 key skills showed by the players. They refer to self-determination, motivation, recovery processes and learning from mistakes. A second level of competences regards the players’ interpersonal skills and the ability to be adapted at the new contexts. A third level is composed by different conditions to cope with (adversity, pressure, success). The last emerging factors are the control game dynamics trough the anticipation processes, about what is going to happen in few seconds and the desire to innovatively provide, following the Anders Ericcson’s words, “a unique innovative contribution”. The second chapter of this part by Matt Pain, titled “Mental interventions”, is about the 5Cs mental of toughness regarding the assessment and the development of the following skills: commitment, communication, concentration, control, confidence. It’s the model used by Football Association in England to develop the youth’s psychological competences. The chapter provides case studies based on one-to-one work with players, coaching interventions and team practices to develop this mental approach. Its interest is in numerous practical situations proposed and developed to cope with these five mental skills. The third and last chapter is by Mark Nesti, titled “Performance mind-set.” The author identified four key topics as important for sport psychologists and coaches, they are: anxiety, identity, critical comments and life beyond the training ground. It must be noted that compared to the two contributes these chapter is more based around the authors’ professional experiences with several teams of the English Premier League. Nesti worked more in one-to-one situation with players and coaches than with team, for the concrete limitation to engaging in group works in professional teams. The author said that this approach was useful to meet better and in deep the needs of the players and the type of challenge they had to face. The last two parts of this book are related to the Tactics and strategies (four chapters) and Match performance and analysis (four chapters). It’s a very informative book useful for all are involved in soccer at different levels.

Higuain: how the mind go wrong the penalties

The day after the final of the AmericaCup  and penalty-photocopy kicked up by Gonzalo Higuain, we speak of kicks from eleven meters with an expert in sports psychology. Alberto Cei  teaches “Coaching” at the University of Roma Tor Vergata and he has been working as mental coach with many Olympic athletes, sports teams or coaches.

Un rigore rappresenta un momento particolare per un atleta, che sia definito un campione o meno?
Il rigore è il massimo momento di solitudine e di pressione per un calciatore, va detto che di solito i rigori li tirano i migliori, infatti esistono i rigoristi in ogni squadra. Parto dall’idea che è la testa che guida, non il piede o la gamba. Puoi avere la macchina migliore ma poi ci vuole il pilota, quindi occorre una preparazione psicologica e mentale per questi momenti.

De Gregori ha torto o ha ragione: è da questi particolari che si giudica un giocatore?
Un campione resta un campione anche se ha commesso un errore o più di uno. Perché nel tirare un rigore non si mette in discussione la capacità tecnica del giocatore ma la sua capacità mentale. Il percorso che si compie dal centro del campo fino al dischetto è fondamentale, come ciò che si pensa prima di tirare. Ricordo che tanti anni fa Gullit disse che se sei molto stanco l’importante è che tiri forte perché se cerchi il gesto tecnico è più facile che sbagli. Ciò che conta è essere decisi e creare mentalmente un legame tra te e dove vuoi che finisca il pallone. E’ come tirare una freccia, devo prefigurare dove voglio che finisca.
Noi perdemmo un mondiale per un rigore sbagliato di Baggio, non si può mettere in discussione un campione per questo. L’importanza la dà solo il significato che quel tiro ha in quel determinato momento.

Dopo quell’errore Baggio disse «I rigori li sbaglia solo chi ha il coraggio di tirarli», è questo il modo giusto di reagire?
È un buon modo per rispondere a un momento di difficoltà, con un attacco. Poi magari nei mesi successivi quell’errore ti resta dentro ma è importante aver dato questa risposta che sottolinea la stima verso te stesso e l’orgoglio che hai per averlo fatto.

Higuain si è da poco reso colpevole di un errore nella finale di Coppa America e precedentemente aveva sbagliato un rigore nel Napoli contro la Lazio in un’altra partita che potremmo definire fondamentale. Due rigori fotocopia e due errori, ci può essere un legame?
Commettere due errori uguali è possibile perché talvolta noi ci fissiamo sull’errore: prima di tirare magari ti ritorna in mente che avevi sbagliato proprio in quel modo e non vuoi ripeterti. La conseguenza, invece, è che ti esce lo stesso tiro.

Cosa passa per la testa di un atleta quando si avvicina al dischetto?
Non possiamo prevedere cosa ci verrà in mente mentre tiriamo, per questo c’è bisogno di allenarci mentalmente a questi momenti. Higuain avrebbe dovuto pensare che nel momento in cui si apprestava a calciare quel rigore sbagliato sarebbe potuto tornargli in mente, e quindi avrebbe dovuto lavorare su questo. Magari lo ha fatto ma non è che sempre si riesce a metterlo in pratica nel momento giusto. Occorrono costanza e lavoro, allenandoti a cambiare quell’idea che potrebbe ritornare. Certo è un lavoro sulle possibilità ma dal momento che sbagliare un rigore può risultare fondamentale, lo devi fare.

Accade anche negli altri sport, immaginiamo.
Tutti gli atleti che praticano sport di precisione, come il golf, il tennis, lavorano su questi aspetti mentali, lo stesso Federer per mettere dentro l’82% di prime di servizio si allena tutti i giorni. Ma non sull’abilità tecnica, bensì su quella psicologica perché ti alleni mentalmente a metterla sempre dentro.

Higuain ha comunque dimostrato coraggio nel tornare sul dopo gli errori commessi in questa stagione?
Aver sbagliato e tornare sul dischetto significa sicuramente aver coraggio, ma riprendersi dipende dalla voglia di allenarsi per non ripeterlo.
Il concetto fondamentale, e anche la difficoltà per un campione, sta nel mettere insieme il coraggio con l’umiltà. Bisogna avere il coraggio di tirare un calcio di rigore ma anche l’umiltà di allenarsi per fronteggiare questi momenti, mettersi lì giorno dopo giorno senza pensare che basta essere un campione per fare sempre bene. È utile pensare “sono un campione” ma non basta, devo anche saper fare il campione quando sono in campo nei momenti giusti. L’abilità è essere pronto quando devi esserlo. Le faccio due esempi.

LeBron James non era abile nei tiri da tre e si arrabbiava perché sbagliava tanto. Sa come hanno risolto? L’allenatore gli ha preparato un video di dieci minuti in cui gli mostrava tutte le volte in cui faceva canestro col tiro da tre. Doveva guardarlo tutti i giorni e contemporaneamente si allenava tutti i giorni sui tiri da tre. Esistono delle tecniche per migliorare, non basta la forza di volontà del giocatore. Vale anche per il rugbista Jonny Wilkinson. Ha un sistema di allenamento anche mentale per avere la più alta media realizzativa nei tiri e il suo metodo è lo stesso che usa Cristiano Ronaldo. Allenarsi, non significa che non sbaglierai mai ma che avrai più fiducia in te stesso e quindi saprai gestire la tensione emotiva in quei momenti.
(Intervista di Francesca Leva da Il Napolista)

In the pitch with the young players with enthusiasm and curiosity

The young players called in Italian football pulcini are the second category of the football school in order of age and include children aged 8 to 10 years. Very often coaches are extremely satisfacted of them, emphasizing the interest and enthusiasm that at this age children showt on the pitch. The satisfaction of the coaches is explained by the evolutionary moment that children of this age live. They live a break in their evolutionary process, they become masters of their body and their mental faculties, becoming aware of themselves, helped by a better definition of the body schema and also by a better level of sociability. All these features put your child away from the continuous self-discovery typical of the previous stage and still far from the confused adolescent storm. It is this that makes it possible to define the young players of this age as more coachable of the football school. This definition, however, does not delete the difficulties that can be encountered in the group management. Beyond the technical and tactical dimensions is important, as always, to know the psychological dynamics belonging to this age group and also the most effective communication style to be used with these young players. Here are some ideas about what to do when we are working with them.

What To Do:

  • Engage constantly reducing at the minimum the pauses and waits
  • Build their psychological autonomy (means to know how to solve problems)
  • Propose exercises in which they must take decisions
  • Reinforce not only the correctness of the choices, but the ability to make choices
  • Promote the ability to take calculated risks
  • Insert in training exercises teaching to maintain a balance between individual risk and collective game
  • Lead to internalize the rules of the group
  • Teaching to work in a competitive environment
  • Structuring training with the aim to promote collaboration
  • Decrease the individualism (at this age tend to feed itself: you do so, then, me too)
  • Help them to assess what attitude or situation determine the mistakes even through personal examples

Knowing how to handle the young players means, not only to develop their technical and tactical skills, but also to support their enthusiasm and curiosity.

(by Daniela Sepio)