Saturday, 19 June 2010

Soccer Strategy - broader implications

With the World Cup in full swing, It has been quite interesting to reflect on the games and what they offer in the way of strategic insight. Sport is not everyone's cup of tea, and I admit to have gone through periods when I greatly enjoyed watching sport on TV and others when I had no interest at all.

When I was young, of course, football was my chief sporting passion, and like most boys my age, school consisted of waiting to get into the playground to kick a ball around in the rough and disorganized games we played then. We would kick anything around at a pinch - usually a tennis ball - and the players' skills and personalities became five minute legends amongst us. By the time we got to secondary school, the organized nature, muddy pitch, invariably cold showers and the increasing gap in physical abilities took away most of the fun from the game, and with it my interest.

Looking back on those years, there are several points come to mind, both as it affected me and with regard to the way it was taught and skills developed.

Skill was a function of physical capabilities

You might have all the ball skills in the world, but if you can't run to save your life, you're not going to make it as a forward. (After seeing the England match with Germany, I would add defenders should be able to run, too. Unless, like me, they rarely leave their penalty area).

Get in there and kick the ball

This was largely the approach we grew up with as kids, and is reflected in English football to this day. Those with some skill and talent were, no doubt, given some ideas of tactics and worked on stamina and other attributes, but by and large, we learned by playing. We developed only as much skill as we needed, which wasn't very much.

Commentary reflects approach to play

Commentary here in Japan is very different to the commentary in England. Whereas the English style tends to be descriptive of the game, who has the ball and what are they doing with it, Japanese commentary is much more discursive, offering a commentary that links to the events of the game, but doesn't describe what is happening. It often centres on the tactics the sides are using. The game, too, tends to be more thought out in Japan (to its detriment, I might add), with kids in school endlessly practising set plays and spending very little time playing games.

Practice has different aims

While one might imagine that the aim of practice is to improve in a skill or to improve as a team, there is a clear disconnect between practise methods and stated or inferred aims. Clearly, there is more at work here than meets the eye. And this is as it should be - sports practised at school and professional levels do have different aims. But good practice will help you to achieve those aims - so it behoves you to be clear on what you are practcising and why.

Eye level vastly changes the game

This is another important point with wider implications. What you see on TV is not what you see when you're playing the game. The pundits and armchair critics might think very differently if the view they had of the game was the same as that of the players. (The first time I saw a live match I was surprised by how little I could see and consequently how boring it was. Not what I had imagined at all!!)
In practical terms, this means that the skills you are developing, the tactical/strategic awareness, must be operable from ground level. The awareness of the individual must be attuned to this level of play.... it is obviously much easier to see what is going on from the spectators viewpoint, but much more important for the man on the ground to be able to assess the situation.
(Picture above is by Tenmyouya Hisashi)

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