How AZ Alkmaar get players thinking for themselves
Written by Simon Austin — May 30, 2017
MARIJN BEUKER, AZ Alkmaar's head of performance, has explained how the club gets young players thinking for themselves on the pitch.
This has been a big theme on TGG recently - coaches wanting players to think on their feet rather than needing pre-programming.
England rugby coach Eddie Jones explained: "You've got to coach the players to play the game, which in the most part is chaotic. You can't script the game of rugby."
And his predecessor, Brian Ashton, said: “I’ve never been a believer in game-plans. I believe in providing a framework and a vision of how the team should play. There's that old army maxim, ‘no battle plan survives contact with the enemy’."
Beuker is an advocate of this philosophy. He told Leaders in Sport: "We can’t say ‘always pass the ball 10 metres to the next player’ because that’s not soccer-real. We make it complex, we make it hard, we keep changing the situation so that when the boys adapt you immediately raise the bar again - a new context, a new situation.
"We’re trying to develop implicit learning, where a player unconsciously trains themselves. It’s the difference between telling a player what exercise to do, which is based on explicit learning, to telling them what the result needs to be and allowing them to find the solution for themselves.
"There are multiple ways to achieve a result on the pitch but if the player only knows one way then they’re going to be at a disadvantage. So we make the players more aware of their situation.
"The players are developing the connections in their brain, which can only come from experience. In addition, we’ve also been able to develop a computer programme together with a couple of universities, which enables players, via two half-hour sessions a week, to train their soccer brain at home."
Beuker says coaches can set the end goal for players - but how they get there is up to them. This tallies with how the Royal Marines operate.
Last week Marine JJ Chalmers told TGG: "The mission is the end goal. It’s up to you, the commanders on the ground, to decide how to get there."
Beuker said: "When we do an exercise such as passing or receiving the ball, I can tell you exactly what to do, but we don’t do that. We make them aware of what they need to achieve at the end.
"When we do that, it triggers more creative and solution-focused thinking. So we’ll say that you have to pass the ball and figure it out for yourself. The only important thing is that your team-mate receives the ball in this way so that he can move towards the goal and score.
"We’re always asking a lot of questions of players, but instead of saying ‘that’s not a good choice’ we’ll ask ‘why did you choose that?’ or ‘what was a better option?’; ‘how can we create a two against one in this situation?’
"We like to empower young players because it makes the work more fun to do."