Possibly, the most important goal in training is helping the players to develop skills and behaviours to improve their performance during competition. The coach’s job consists in designing practice sessions that simulate the demands of the game and help the athletes to get better. One characteristic that distinguishes the best football players from the rest is their ability to anticipate what is going to happen in the game and make effective decisions under pressure during the match.1,2 However, it seems that the training methodology coaches employ to achieve these goals can be different on a country-to-country basis.3
A recent publication4 has analysed the tasks performed in 16 football academies from different European elite clubs. The conclusions are based on the assessment of activities proposed by 53 coaches from 4 different countries (England (n = 15), Germany (n = 14), Portugal (n = 11) and Spain n = 13) during 83 training sessions with players from 5 different categories (from U-12 to U-16). The activities proposed by these coaches were classified into two different categories: active and non-active decision-making tasks. The former refer to activities performed in small groups or teams involving active decision making for the players that are similar to what happens in a real game; for example, small-sided and conditioned games, possession games or technical-tactical work with opposition. The latter include those activities that do not involve active decision making present in a real game; for example, fitness exercises or technical-tactical work without opposition. The data was collected between 2016 and 2018, in the middle of the season and in sessions away from competitions.
The research outcomes, suggest some outstanding conclusions:
- The average duration of the training sessions was 88 ± 6 minutes. No significant differences were noticed among the different countries.
- The percentage of time employed in tasks with active decision time, was different among the countries involved. Portuguese teams (68 ± 9%) and Spanish teams (67 ± 10%) allocated more time for this kind of activities during training sessions than English (56 ± 8%) and German (57 ± 10%) teams. Therefore English (26 ± 8%) and German (26 ± 9%) teams allocated a higher percentage of training time for passive decision-making tasks than the Portuguese (14 ± 8%) and Spanish (15 ± 9%) teams.
- The percentage of time during the session allocated for technical work with passive decision making was higher in English teams (18% ± 9), compared with the German (7 ± 7%), Portuguese (3 ± 5) and Spanish (2 ± 3) teams.
- The percentage of time during the session allocated for fitness work was significantly higher in German teams (18% ± 6), compared with the English (4 ± 5%), Portuguese (6 ± 6) and Spanish (8 ± 9) teams.
- Transit time between tasks (organising exercises, coaches’ explanations, breaks to hydrate, etc.) was similar among all countries and it represented 17% and 18% of the total session time.
In conclusion, there seems to be different training methodologies within European football. Performing tasks that imply a more or less active decision making can reflect the sports culture of each country. We already know that players’ training depends on each context. However, that does not mean that all methodologies are effective. The coach’s job consists in developing practice conditions that allow players to constantly improve. In this position, as Paco Seirul·lo suggests, the more interaction a player has with the context of the game, the better to enable their personal growth by improving their decision making.
Carlos Lago Peñas
1 Pinder RA, Davids K, Renshaw I, Araújo D. 2011. Representative learning design and functionality of research and practice in sport. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 33(1):146–155.
2 Williams AM, Ford PR. 2013. ‘Game intelligence’: anticipation and decision making. In: Williams AM, editor. Science and soccer: developing elite performers. 3rd ed. London (UK): Routledge; p. 105–121.
3 Partington M, Cushion C. 2013. An investigation of the practice activities and coaching behaviours of professional top-level youth soccer coaches. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 23(3):374-382.
4 Roca A, Ford, PA. 2020. Decision-making practice during coaching sessions in elite youth football across European countries, Sci Med Football, DOI: 10.1080/24733938.2020.1755051