Lee Hodge: Could you provide me a little bit about your background in coaching?
At the age of 18 I started to train young players. I worked in grassroots and pro clubs. I also developed a program for mental disabled people playing football.
Author courses coordination and running skills Flemish Training School
Coach coordination and running skills Uefa’s elite referees’ courses Monaco préparions 2nd round Champion’s League
Coordinator Youth Academy STVV Sint-Truidense pro club
Director Flemish Recruitment and Perfection Academy Standard de Liege, pro club
Scout and youth coach RSC Anderlecht, pro club
Director KV Mechelen Youth Academy, pro club
During 11 years coach/coordinator Youth elite Academy of the Belgian Federation at the university of Leuven
Director Youth Academy Standard de Liege
Managing coach Feeder groups Aspire Academy, Doha Qatar
LH: What have you learnt from these experiences?
MB: That football is continuously evolving. I began to understand we focus too much on performance and don’t approach potential in a correct way. Most of all our selections are based on early matured players and we disrupt the players’ mental development. Learning goes about emotion and needs to guarantee learning readiness is continuously present. We need to be sure that there is a growth mind setting and not a fixed one. Studying the brain changed a lot my teaching strategies.
LH: How much emphasis do you put on winning, fun and development? How would you rate those in an order?
MB: Winning needs to be the result of a good performance. Winning or loosing a game needs to be considered as a learning process. It is matter of how you are going to organize your training concept: will it be a short term approach proving you can win a competition or is it a long term process with proper shifting goals to go to high performance. The level of fun will be depending on your final goal: grassroots player or pro player. Pro player means not always aging fun.
Rating the principles I would say: development (children want to learn) – fun (the correct matching of learning flow in relation with the player’ s personal desire and grit) – winning (as a part as a long term learning process – 10.000 hours rule – sufficient resting)
LH: Could you provide me an example of a typical week at your football club?
MB: In an elite academy we try to organize about 20 hours weekly from the age of 12 years on. The younger children come 3 or 4 times weekly but we give them a lot of homework (SenseBall drills to improve kin-aesthetic capacity). Early starters can go to a higher level because they will develop their fundamental skills in a better way.
In general we work with cycles of 6 weeks. In each cycle a number of coordination, technical and tactical goals will be focused. For the youngest players there is also a multisports approach.
At the end of each cycle there internal workshops given by the coaches and team guides to share experiences and improve understanding.
LH: What sort of attributes do you think a young player will need to play in the future game?
MB: fast passing – great controlling capacities – accurate and subtle passing – receiving “repertoires” and actions while moving at the highest speed – skillful while runs with the ball at max speed – in built deceptive and unorthodox skill set up – minimal ball touches or passes and precisely – perfect and two footed ball mastery skills – playing with opponent in the back – use your body and protect ball – individual covering techniques/skills (agility) – being skillful regarding performance and anticipating changes of game rhythm – intelligent running and moving – tactical intelligence – more semi-positional players (changes of positions)
LH: Can we coach players’ to be smart(er)? Could you provide detail on how players learn?
MB: If we want players to be smarter we need to understand how the player’s brain is organized. Learning goes through the emotional center of the brain. So watch out if there is too much stress involved. Check continuously cognitive readiness and train it conscientiously.
Learning needs to be logical: chunk up your learning information and guarantee you put retrieval structures in your training organization. Learning is also repeating, but using repetitions with variable aspects (in brain context= myelination). Always integrate your drills in the context of football, because the brain is very sensible for context related activities (information is recovered quicker if the context is presence).
Apply the principle of “the players are coaching”. The bigger the players’ involvement the more they learn.
LH: what type of practices can we devise and implement to develop the players perceptual, cognitive and motor skills?
MB: drills with a strong repetitive and synchronized foundation. We learn the best in a group, because individual learning needs to be confirmed by the group.
Perceptual: continuous bilateral organized drills. Not focusing on one ball.
Cognitive: drills requiring a lot of concentration and using “double tasking”
Motor skills: rhythmic multisensorial integrated drills (training on bare feet)
LH: Can you provide some examples of practices that develop the brain?
MB: disco ergo sum – make children move more – let them learn to count when they are moving up and down a stairs. Moving organizes the brain. Let them perform many left-right movements
Let them perform movements that go out of our conventional moving patterns: I.e. raising the left arm forwards and the right leg backwards – don’ t repeat this till it is automated
LH – Could schools implement brain training methods in lessons? If so could you provide examples of how they could achieve this?
MB: Absolutely. If children have to sit still continuously they do not develop in a healthy way. Train memorizing techniques with movements: ask children to memorize a number of movements (hopping forwards-backwards, hopping on one foot etc…). Go to 8 movements and then change the order.
LH: Could you explain more about the senseball practices that you use and how they help the players’ cognitive development?
MB: SenseBall has been developed to address a number of important issues regarding a healthy development of skills and to endorse the brain functioning.
Recent neurological research proves there is a continuous interaction between the body and the brain. The brain projects a mind set into the body and a particular body position can influence a mind setting (put a pencil between the lips when you are feeling down and your mind set will change – other position of the jaw muscles).
With SenseBall we aim to influence a number of mental processes that have an influence on cognitive functioning. There is one principle that always needs to be there: RHYTHM. Do not perform the drills without rhythm!
First we aim to improve concentration and attention. Repeating this regularly there will be a transfer to school performance. We try to create new neuronal networks so that the brain capacity grows. These networks will be available at any moment. Rhythm guarantees that a child will be become calm and master his brain energy in a better way.
Performing the drills in a cued organization requires a lot of concentration. Music will help to control the movements through the rhythmic structure but it also influences the emotional status of the performer. Processing music is directing to an upper part of the brain that has got an enormous influence on developing football skills.
The fact movements are performed in a more controlled way we will address more to slow motor units to be sure we develop the correct postural behavior.
A perfect posture will have an influence on moving quality and exclude many injuries.
LH: how can we transfer the brain training into a game?
MB: a game is not mastered by the muscles but by the brain. The more the brain is implicated in what you are doing the better decision making will take place. The repetition of visible structures and the fact the players will be challenged with tasks requiring to come to game solutions they have to find themselves will influence their game.
Actually the whole Cogitraining organization is respecting the principle of dependent state processing. This means that all the drills are organized in a way the global game context is always present. Building up drills to complex structures challenges the player’s brain. Learning matching the brain organization is the key!
LH: what type assessment do you use for assessing players/trialist?
MB: I check the potential. Normally I want children to pass general moving and mental tests to determine their moving potential and to find out with what sports they are matching the best. In a second stage I check typical football skills and I want to find out what motivation they have (grit test). The mind setting is the most important. I am also checking the parents attitude because their support will have an important influence on their child’s development.
During our training sessions we always try to focus on the relation between game readiness and skill development. We process our scores in a graphic way to show the tendency in a player’s development.
LH: How do you provide feedback to players and parents?
MB: we provide continuous feedback. And from the first moment we explain we are not interested in short term results. We continuously have a follow up regarding maturity. We want to know how a child is doing at school and we want most of all to be sure that the emotional context is balanced. We ask our players to tell us how they are feeling and if they are sleeping enough.
After each training session the coach appoints the player with the best work attitude. At the end of the week we choose the best player of the week and we hang up his photo as example for the others.
Attitude means: concentration – involvement – respect – technical accuracy – team attitude
LH: Do you use video analysis? If so how is it used and what are your views on using this tool?
MB: we use video analysis, but we don’ t want to go to overshadowing (too much visual information). The brain is much more relying on sensorial information. If we can improve the sensorial input we’ ll prefer to make use of this principle.
LH: Finally, what impact do you think your methods will have on players’ performance in the long term?
MB: I think any small improvement of our methods will have an influence on a player’s high performance. The world is continuously changing and we need to focus on the future game. Brain research is going to change many things and we absolutely need to adapt our programs to the advises coming out of these researches.
The fact that I could deliver many players to the Belgian national team (Steven Dufour, Porto, Dries Mertens, PSV Eindhoven, and I could also train and coach several times Moussa Dembele, Thiebaut Courtois etc…) and this team is proving to play football in a modern and attractive way, is the best way to show my ideas have some value. I am aware of one thing: the only constant thing in life is variability!!
LH: Thank you Michel for taking the time to answer the questions. Your ideas are inspiring and will certainly help coaching practice evolve.