Training “The Brain”: The Next Frontier in Player Development
By The Soccer Club of East Africa (SCEA) | Mon 09 Oct, 2017 18:32
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Training the brain is increasingly becoming the next frontier in the development of not only excellent soccer players but also high quality sportsmen and women. After many years of neglect, brain based learning is gaining popularity among several youth soccer educators and instructors. Research finds that brain and body stimulation are vital for high quality performances among not only youths but also adult athletes.

Consequently, key ingredients in brain-based teaching can enhance their perception (peripheral and split vision), concentration, attention focus, cognitive readiness and excellent motor functioning in addition to good comprehension of time and space.

Stimulate brains

Although not a new approach in fields like education and neuroscience, Michel Bruyninck, a former Director of the Standard Liege Football Academy in Belgium, has pioneered brain based learning in soccer. The concept involves using exercises and practices that stimulate the brains of young soccer players (through overloads or multitasking) thus in a way enhancing their performances (Peterson, Par 1).

For example training while listening to music and speaking more than one language during physical conditioning or the practice of overloads (multitasking) activates brain nerve cells to concentrate and focus on the task. In fact, brain based learning attests to three major components core to instruction and learning like relaxed alertness, orchestrated immersion and active processing among others. 

Therefore, instructors ought to present challenging age specific soccer activities that induce less stress (relaxed alertness) to enhance a mistake – free learning experience among young players.

Knowledge levels

These activities and practices need to take into account players’ current knowledge levels and extent of exposure to scientific soccer training. Moreover, they should be new and less repetitive for the brain to notice and process new information instead of thinking it already knows what lies ahead.

Secondly, orchestrated immersion involves instruction that immerses young learners into their learning environments. Through concentration, adjustability, perception, focused attention and team effort in organizing practices, learners own their learning experiences. Additionally, they can better comprehend what lies ahead before it occurs through anticipation and expectation. This not only enables them to find new connections within their brains to recall but also synchronize partaken lessons with the ones at hand (The Blue Print, Par 15).

Make links

Thirdly, actively processing information in various ways enables neurons of individual young players to make links within their respective brains. This is mainly critical when dealing with new information and can help in enhancing their thinking, decision- making and long-term memorization processes (Peterson, Par 3).

Therefore, the stimulation of young players’ cognitive functions enables them to perceive passing angles through correct timing and excellent spacing – through peripheral and split vision (Murphy, Par 11 and The Blue Print, Par 8). Research finds out that finding ways for training youngsters into fast anticipation of their respective opponent’s moves, feints and transitions will lead to the production of better quality soccer performances in adulthood.

Therefore, instruction has to realize the role brains play in soccer and thus devise practices that enhance cognitive readiness alongside the bodies of youngsters under their guidance.

Cognitive processes

Following the point above, the stimulation of both lower and higher level - cognitive (executive) processes respectively are paramount in talent identification and development. Lower- level cognitive processes like visual- perceptual and decision making abilities are a requirement at all soccer playing  levels of talent development, professional and amateur (Huijgen et al, 3).

Similarly, higher – level cognitive processes of inhibition control (changing from passing through a blocked option and deciding otherwise), working memory, cognitive flexibility and metacognition are more prominent among better talented soccer players under developmental programs in comparison to amateurs.

In fact, higher- level cognitive processes or executive functions (EFs) results are manifest among elite and sub elite youths in comparison to lower- level cognitive processes. Consequently, prioritizing the development of EFs among elites and sub- elites with respect to their age, training hours and academic levels without wholly ignoring low level – cognition processes ought to be a very important consideration for soccer instructors.

Prioritize

In conclusion, instructors should prioritize the development of soccer players’ brains. Especially their executive functions and lower- level cognitive processes for improved anticipation, perception and decision making under a lot of pressure and fast changing soccer situations.

Educators need to use aspects of active information processing, orchestrated immersion and relaxed alertness to stimulate the environment and various ways in which young soccer players use their brains in soccer specific situations. Resultantly, stimulated perception, concentration and focused attention among other aspects will over time result into the development of better quality soccer players

The Soccer Club of East Africa (SCEA)
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