Everyone is Unique

Players like Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Bale, Suarez and other top players can change a match with an individual move. They have both athletic and mental skills that enable them to perform a game changing action.

One thing these players do not have in common is physique. Their bodies are completely different, and they don’t have a similar running or shooting technique. These players are completely different from one another, and their only common trait is the ability to change a match in a stroke of genius.

One can simply take a look at Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimović and think that they came from a different planet. PSG’s striker is 1.95 metres tall and weighs 95 kg, while Barcelona’s maestro is 1.69 meters tall and weighs 67 kg. Are there any physical similarities between Cristiano Ronaldo (86 kg of muscles on a 1.86 meters frame) and Andrés Iniesta (65 kg on a 1.70 meters body that looks like a tax assessing officer)? No, there aren’t any, but they are still great football players.

A recent study shows that these physical differences are not something that football clubs completely understand.

It seems that when training both youth players and professional footballers, the variation in physique is not necessarily something that clubs take into consideration when constructing training plans. It seems as though at least some of the great players have become great simply due to chance, as they were able to develop their skills even before they were put into the big clubs’ “assembly line”.

The study, put together by Professor Wolfgang Schöllhorn of Mainz University, might change the face of football. Schoellhorn is working closely with Mainz manager Thomas Tuchel. He also worked with Jürgen Klopp and was instrumental in the success of legendary Barcelona fitness coach Paco Seirul-lo.

Schöllhorn is known for his support of short training sessions, focusing on quickness, agility and flexibility. His training methods allow the coaching staff to quickly communicate instructions to the players in a more exciting way than the usual ways of training. Players are encouraged to focus on positive things that happened during the training sessions and to forget about the mistakes they have made.

The managers who come to learn from the professor are asked to incorporate an idea called “differential training”, meaning that when working on tactics, the training should be tailor-made for every individual player.

This is a way of thinking that is slowly gaining more and more supporters in the world of football – every player is different, therefore they should be treated and trained differently.

Recently, another related study by Schöllhorn has the potential to revolutionize European training methods. He wrote: “Through diverse individual training, the player finds the technique that he feels is best suited for him. Differential training gives more advantages to more players, and is beneficial to players at all ages”.

Mark Wertheim Ph.D, head of the Israeli center for coordination, is a close friend of Schöllhorn . According to him, Schöllhorn’s recent study is “simply put – a proof that technique is a skill that can’t be duplicated, meaning that ball control is not entirely teachable”.

Schöllhorn compared the way different players kick the ball, and found that world-class football players each have a different way of kicking and passing. Furthermore, every kick or pass is different, even when made by the same player, as the way the players approach the ball is different every time. The technique changes in accordance with the conditions surrounding the player.

This means that when kicking the ball, there isn’t really a “right” way or a “wrong” one – it’s more about how the body responds to movement and the happenings on the field.

These findings might have a dramatic influence on the methods of training.

According to Dr. Wertheim, almost every manager and coach regarded each touch of the ball as a 3-step process: Approaching the ball, making contact and the movement that follows (follow through):

“Coaches tried to explain each of these steps, and ran exercises to improve them. The coaches felt that their suggestions would help all the players in the team, but now there are new factors in play – who is the player we’re trying to improve? How tall is he? How agile is he? How quickly can he absorb new information?”

Dr. Wertheim also adds::

“We can’t teach a tall kid to kick the ball the same way a short kid does. It’s up to the player’s coordination levels. A highly coordinated child has a greater chance of learning fast the right way he should kick or pass the ball. Coordination is his infrastructure for his unique skills and technique”.

Coordination is not an easy thing to learn. It’s only recently that trainers have decided to make a concerted effort to improve a player’s coordination levels.

However, it’s safe to say that coordination has had an integral part in the development of football players, even before professionals were able to pinpoint coordination as a factor in those players’ success.

Almost every major football star is a product of chance. These players were pushed to their limits by their parents (coaches, ex-players or simply football fanatics), but the real influence came from the matches and training they went through. According to research, there’s another major factor, as it’s been proven that in almost every sport (especially team sports), successful players have had high coordination levels.

A player’s technique is based on his coordination – football players who have not developed high levels of coordination will never be elite players, regardless of how many hours of repetitive training they have gone through.

“Many top clubs in Germany, Spain and Italy have understood these things“, says Wertheim. “More and more programs are dedicated to coordination. The German FA has decided that they will dedicate 50% of all basic-level training to the development of coordination. These skills are now becoming the focus of clubs’ scouting systems, and they help us determine which players have more potential to succeed in the game”.

Clubs are now more likely to hire coordination coaches than another fitness coach.

“Coordination should be “a part of every club’s training regimen”, says Wertheim. “Clubs should train their players to develop these skills using the most cutting-edge information in the fields of neuroscience and scientific training. They need to be wary, however, of unprofessional imitations and ’YouTube scientists’. Every club should hire a professional that will aid in creating a training program and educate the training staff. Clubs shouldn’t look to attend a one-time seminar on coordination training, they need to look for serious, long-term plans”.

The only true obstacle in the way of this revolutionary form of training is tradition. The older coaches (and the close-minded ones) are struggling to accept that technique can not be duplicated – they had been used to thinking that all you need to do is train hard and long enough, and eventually you’ll be able to kick and pass properly.

Fitness specialist Raymond Verheijen claimed on twitter that the managers who stick to their traditional ways of training are “dinosaurs”, and that their inability to embrace innovations in scientific training hinders the development of their players, and football in general. After Robin van Persie got injured in Manchester United’s recent trip to Japan, Verheijen took to his Twitter page to attack United manager David Moyes: “It really makes you wonder how these prehistoric training methods can still take place at the highest level. The only way to solve this problem in Jurassic Park is to improve education of these dinosaur coaches, fitness clowns & scientific cowboys”.

It might take a while, but eventually all these “dinosaurs” will be gone.

Coaching staffs around the world are slowly realising that training methods need to be radically transformed in order to realise their players’ full potential.

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