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News > Our muscles are the slaves of our brain

This news was published on 03.04.2012

Jean Kindermans and Dirk Gyselinckx (Youth Academy Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht)

‘Our muscles are the slaves of our brain’

Much recognition didn’t Michel Bruyninckx get in Belgium before he decided to leave for Qatar recently, but in RSC Anderlecht his pioneering work inspired by brain research is very valued. ‘Some of the drills we offer today to our young players are really revolutionary!’

It took some time before Dirk Gyselinckx, a colleague of Michel, could convince Jean Kindermans, the RSCA Academy director, regarding Michel’s ideas and implement them in the Brussels Institute. Bruyninckx developed the B&M method (Brain and Moving – Body and Mind), an innovative view  for youth soccer development based on scientifically research regarding the brain. Gyselinckx was his assistant in the Football Elite Academy of the Belgian Football Federation in Leuven.  ‘Lionel Messi’, he starts his story, ‘has never performed at the same level for Argentina as he did for Barcelona. How do you explain this? Check sociological research and you will see: a player’s identity is influenced by the players around him.   

When you build something together, you have a relation with others. This is what happens in La Masia, the Barcelona youth Academy. Barcelona did understand one thing very well: you need to develop a pedagogical concept. Create a climate where next to the football culture there is also a living culture.  A culture where people deal in a respectful way with each other. Where boys grow up together and are educated in a serene, balanced manor. That's the reason they respect each other when they go into the first team. Instead of  big ego's you get normal people. Obviously we don't understand this. In the youth academies of our pro clubs there are yearly more than 500 transfers. How can you expect that there will develop a team spirit, that children learn to play together instead of playing against each other. A child only learns when it is in a consistent environment, feeling good and his individual learning is confirmed by the group he belongs to. A good team spirit is needful condition.

Revolutionary training sessions

Anderlecht got to understand this message. Since a couple of years the number of players they transfer is really limited. At most 3 players per age category. We now try to keep most of the players together, Gyselinckx says, who fully believes in Michel Bruyninckx' ideas. Bruyninckx until last February director of Standard de Liege ' s Youth Academy, left in June together with Jose Riga to start working for the Qatar Aspire Academy. "Some years ago Michel approached soccer in a holistic way. Everything goes through the brain. For many years we thought there was a division into body and mind , but that is the old Descartes' dualistic vision - I think so I am. Michel understood as many others it was one whole.

Kindermans confirms: "This apprehension was not present in our Academy. Our formation programs contained technical, tactical, physical and mental components most of all referring to mentality. Thanks to numerous truths discovered by neurological, psychological and sociological researches we started thinking about the context a child needs to develop adequately. Michel succeeded in proving scientifically a number of things. We integrated his ideas in our strategies, but the most difficult part of all this the transmutation into practice. That' s what we did the last two, three years. Hard working with as a result a beautiful and revolutionary vademecum containing specific drills.

Gyselinckx: "Michel was inspiratory of all this, due to the fact I worked with him in the Top class Football Academy in Leuven. We made each other stronger. He showed me the way, and I got building on it. With all the respect I have for him I think RSCA  contributed to the development of his ideas. We translated his fundamental concept into modern passing drills, finishing forms, positioning drills and structured games.

At the beginning I was very skeptical regarding Michel's ideas. I considered his ideas to scientifically and in this world the door is not always open for football scientists. Often they transcend the level of football leaders. Till we decided after Dirk' s uninterrupted appeals in a healthy critical way starting to study Michel's ideas and together with our technical staff we translated a number of his principles into methodology and didactics. Such as the principle of time and space:  why not standing and awaiting the ball but arriving in space at the correct moment? Or even: why is bilaterally moving so important? Because the period you get to take a decision becomes smaller and smaller. Jordan Lukaku kicks with his left and right foot  equivalent. Dennis Praet kicks as hard with his left as with his right foot. Even Davy Roefs can now play with both feet. That's what our re-organized programs did. I dare say that some of our drills we offer our youth today in comparison with 5, 6 years ago are revolutionary."

The pitch as a labyrinth.

Gyselinckx stands up and he takes a vast book from Kindermans desk. The future game, writing by English football eminences as Trevor Brooking, Stuart Pierce and Ray Clemence. "They started thinking about how football is going to develop in the next 10 years. We are training today 10 year old that will only be per formant in about 10 years. So we need to anticipate the football reality of 2022."

But what will it be, the future game? Gyselinckx:"a football with much short passing and teams always trying to stay in possession of the ball. Research proves that those teams possession the ball most of the play time, are winning more. Chelsea and Inter Milan winning the Champions League is the proverbial exception. So: much more short passing, much more moving, higher speed of the ball. The ball stays much more in the game and very few long balls are played. Decision making, correct moving, the speed of processing information linked to technical excellence are becoming enormously important."

Next question: "What trainer's profile does fit this new reality?" That's the reason we went to Ireland to check a study of the rugby federation. There we found that a trainer needs to be a teacher.  Based on all that we developed our club vision. They means we are aiming at 70% of profitable ball possession. And what do you need to stay in ball possession? An exceptional technique and a team. This means that the players around the player in possession of the ball need to move to the correct sport and at the right moment. With other words: "There needs to be a continuous link between the individual and the team.  So players need to stay together for many years. Until our U16 there are now few changes."

New is the pioneer insight that a football pitch for a child is not the same as for an adult. "A child looks to a football pitch as a labyrinth. How can you explain possession of the ball in a team format? Here Michel's concept of brain central learning comes in. If you have to learn children to play together, don’t oppose them to each other. You must most of all examine how they are learning. How the brain is organized. Then you find out you need to be patient with a child. You have to repeat a lot and you have to create a good environment.’

A never ending story

The question: ‘Shall Michel succeed in Qatar?’, Dirk Gyselinckx anticipates, ‘Is he going to get the time to do so?’ Jean Kindermans states: ‘I think he is going to meet the same problems he had in Standard. They are not going to accept it immediately  as we also did not. Dirk did correctly refer to the fact: our muscles are influenced by the brain. This is what Michel introduced as first in Belgium. In the beginning for a long period in anonymity and then for some short time in the spotlights of Standard de Liege, but much too short. He could not succeed in making his method generally accepted. The respect for his work was not there’.

Gyselinckx:’ Now that he left to Qatar, superlatives are there. Through the same people that in the past were making jokes of him and called him ‘the wizzard’. This hypocrisy is really annoying me. It is proved that people telling simple stories  gives the impression to be the most credible. The Body&Mind method is unfortunately complex stuff: you can not tell it in 5 words. That is the problem of Michel Bruyninckx, his story is a never ending story. Not a bestseller but a longseller. I have an incredible respect for this man’.

Make them think

Essential in the brain centred learning drills is that all the players continuously need to  pay attention to the others as well. Kindermans:’ Before everybody was only looking to himself, now this is different, we all together. Every Anderlecht player knows that when he is passing, he needs to be aware he can quickly get into possession of the ball again. If 11 players on the pitch are thinking is this way, the player in possession of the ball can never get into problems.  Because the 10 other players are also thinking of getting in possession of the ball. Through our formation philosophy and internal workshops we organize for our coaches, we try to make everyone aware of this strategy. But it is a long term job.’

Gyselinckx:’ What I have learnt from Michel is: you need the players to communicate continuously so that they are always attentive and concentrated (actually cognitive and learning readiness). Players need to learn to move in relation to each other. That requires you explain to your player they need to be continuously in a perceptional status. If we continuously work attentively and concentrated for each other, then we are going to learn the most.’

Kindermans:’ The big challenge is: make players thinking. In the past he only had to perform. In our present-day way of training it is no longer the coach who is telling what to do, it are the players. How do you generate this? By making dry drills very active. This means: include opponents to your drills. So resistance will be there. Or change the performance direction of the drill. So the players have to address to their brain again. They are urged to reflect, not only about their own performance, but also about their teammates, the ball, the opponent and the offside line. It no longer can go down to low mental activity. And what happens? After an hour of training many players are mentally exhausted.’

Measuring the brain

If we know how to learn we can learn in a better way. ‘The muscles are the slaves of our brain’, Gyselinckx says. For this reason you do not select the tallest, strongest or technical best skilled player, but the player with the biggest learning capacity. The coach succeeding to touch the brain gets the most out of his player.’

Kindermans: ‘ Perhaps in the next coming 10 years  we will tell to a boy we want to recruit: ‘ May we mesure your brain?’  Alike to the fact we organize physical tests today and measure the wrist of a young goalkeeper. I am convinced that in a considerable short time we shall put some measuring tools on a player’s head to determine his neuroplasticity. Is it too low we are not going to welcome him in our training center.’ Telling that a player is feasible, is one step to far for Kindermans. ‘The word ‘feasible’ is too strong. I should say: amendable. I am convinced that through this method you can influence a player to make him better. But you can not make a topper of each player. Therefor you need a particular potential of talent.  I know Dirk is thinking in a different way about all this, but I still think talent is core. Sometimes I get the impression that B&M says: give me 10 players, apply B&M and they all become excellent football players. No way. Beethoven and Mozart were already playing instruments when they were 5 years old. That are the talents we are looking for.’

Gyselinckx:’What is talent? According to many it is an abc, but talent is also cultural related. It is a human being’s potential that can grow according to a context. Afterwards  it can only lead to incredible performances. With this context you go again to the field of brain centered learning. Todays’ new trend is to integrate spatial insight in what is called talent. Again you are referring to the brain.’