TGG Podcast #18: The Future Game
Written by Simon Austin and Jeff Weigh — October 4, 2020
FOR our Future Game webinar, nine expert speakers outlined what they believed should be the big developments in football in the coming months and years.
The topics ranged from data science to tactics to strategy to psychology. The presentations lasted for more than six hours and you can purchase a recording of the full day here.
The TGG Podcast - and this article - focuses on segments from four of the talks:
- England rugby coach Eddie Jones talks about the importance of adaptability and leadership in the heat of battle.
- Right to Dream founder and FC Nordsjælland chairman Tom Vernon explains why football needs to rediscover its soul.
- Former Football Association Head of Team Strategy and Performance Dave Reddin argues that football has a 'huge opportunity' to embrace specialist coaching.
- Manchester City and England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and City sports psychologist Lorraine O'Malley describe the work they've done together.
You can listen to the podcast by clicking the player below, and you can read the words of the speakers after that.
Eddie Jones: The edge is in being able to adapt
Eddie Jones: There is equalisation across the board in terms of physical training. Things we did with Japan that were maybe a little bit revolutionary training wise are now commonplace, every team is doing them.
The big edge is being able to tactically adapt to games. It’s not only tactical, it’s psychological. How many times do you see, in a lot of sports, these massive momentum swings, where one team comes out, leads by three goals, look like they’re unbeatable and then something happens and the whole game swings and the other team gets momentum?
The team who had been so fantastic for 30 minutes now can’t find themselves and they can’t find themselves because they’re unable on the field to say, ‘right, this is what we’ve got to do and this is where we’ve got to go.’
It all comes down to the leadership of a team, the adaptability of a team. For me, that’s the big win for us. The coach’s responsibility is to create environments where you can grow those skills and qualities. This is where training becomes a lot messier than it used to be.
I’ve seen football sessions where they look like they’re perfect, they’re like clockwork. But the game's not like that, the game’s messy. So you’ve got to create sessions that are messy.
The ability then to feed back to the players and the players’ ability to reflect on what’s being done I think is crucial going forward and that’s where I see the big advancements in the game.
The players don’t enjoy it and it makes them uncomfortable, because they like doing set 15 v 15 or 11 v 11 in football, but we’re constantly taking players off, making them adapt quickly and solve problems. Before, you’d have more structured sessions, but those sessions are becoming less and less relevant to the game.
You’ve got to have a method to that, you’ve always got to know where you want to end up. I see a lot more emphasis on having a 'games philosophy' to teach the game, but you can’t just let kids play games.
You’ve got to know what you’re trying to achieve. What’s the end result? The skill of coaching is getting more and more complex.
It’s your observation skills. What do the players need? For you to help them, or to work it out for themselves? That comes from trial and error and as a coach don’t be afraid to get that wrong. You can always keep getting better at that, you never get to the end.
It’s the responsibility of coaches to develop guidelines for players, so they experience those scenarios and work out better solutions all the time.
Tom Vernon: Re-discovering football’s soul
Tom Vernon: I think there’s an ever-growing belief that football is losing its connection with its soul. If football’s original soul was a person, how would it design a football Academy?
Would it design an Academy that says, 'you can join us at eight, but if you have a bad season we’re going to kick you out?'
Or would it say, 'you can be with us for eight years, but if you’re not going to play for our first team we don’t have any interest in what you’re going to do after that.'
What I believe football’s soul would be saying is 'once you’re in, you’re in. We want to educate and develop you as a whole human being.'
That’s how we educate our own kids, so why would we do it differently at an Academy?
At Right to Dream, we don’t kick players out when they have a bad season. We make long-term commitments to build you into a young man or woman, and we feel as proud as if you get a scholarship to Stanford as if you end up transferring to Ajax, as one of our guys did recently.
What does football really stand for and how can that be reflected in the day-to-day decisions we make?
One of our big advantages is we started in Africa. The lack of regulation and red tape can often lead to exploitation within African football, but maybe we also haven’t been constrained by as many potentially onerous regulations around how football should be structured as in the UK.
We were allowed to envisage a totally different interpretation of what an Academy would look like.
Now, bringing that into Denmark, we can say we don’t want to de-select players. Even if you come from a privileged background, we would like to be involved and interested in what you do, even if you don’t play for our first team.
All of those things start to shape the trust and feeling and culture we live in on a daily basis.
We’re not here for you because you might be a multi-million transfer for us in the future, but because we view our Academy as using football and global travel as an amazing way to develop you as a human being.
We want you to be a proud graduate and alumni of our system, whether, like some of our Danish students, you end up going to a top University in America, or as a coach or as a first-team player. They all have equal weighting for us, if you buy into the values and philosophy we have.
Dave Reddin: Specialisation can add special value
Dave Reddin: If I go all the way back to the start of my career, with England rugby in 1997, Sir Clive Woodward was adamant that everyone working with players should be a coach.
He was the first leader I encountered - and one of the few since - who understood the value of bringing people together and democratising the conversation.
As fitness coach I was just as entitled to have an opinion on coaching as the coaches were about the work I was doing in the gym or on the field. For the 2003 World Cup, there were eight coaches involved in Clive Woodward’s team, from himself as the Head Coach, really co-ordinating and managing, to forwards, defence, kicking, skills, vision, scrum, throws, and referees and laws.
This idea of specialisation in elite team sports is certainly nothing new and something I have seen add huge value and adding huge value in future. Certainly the NFL had adopted this way before.
I was fortunate to spend some time with the Hawthorn AFL club last year and they have guys like Damian Carroll with the title of Head of Development, but as a coach.
Brendon Bolton is Head Coach, Scott Burns looks after the forwards, Sam Mitchell looks after the midfield, and they have a restart coach and so on.
The opportunity I see here is enormous. Yes, football is starting to embrace this. It is really encouraging to see the work at Brentford. How many coaches have they had stolen from them, from Nicolas Jover to Andreas Georgson to Thomas Gronnemark.
But let's be honest, specialisation of coaching is still not really recognised or universally adopted in football. I see huge opportunity in this model, both from a team perspective - the ability to really get down to the detail, whether that be set plays, throws or tactical elements and phases of the game - to the technical improvement of the players, at every level.
That’s one of the things I see most opportunity in. Perhaps there’s some cultural inertia still around why we should adopt that. Hopefully the work that’s happening at Liverpool and Arsenal and other places starts to tip the balance there and people really start to adopt that.
As I’m sure Eddie would testify, in order to gain from this work, then the Head Coach has to adopt a different style and role, and it becomes much more about how you co-coach and integrate this group of people into the dynamics and schedule of working together.
But it’s hardly the case that no other sport has trodden this path or made a success of it.
Karen Bardsley & Lorraine O'Malley: The importance of sports psychollogy
Karen Bardsley: When I was a bit younger, I didn’t really realise just how valuable the psychological aspect of high performance actually was.
It was only when I broke my leg rather severely in college and had the strange pleasure of working with renowned sports psychologist Ken Ravizza that I started to. He opened my eyes to how much control I do have over my own performance and how I can take control a bit more quickly.
It’s no longer about waiting for things to happen to you, it’s about taking control of what you can. A huge majority of what we do day to day is about the mindset and place you put yourself in in order to try and achieve your most elite performance.
That's been highlighted for me in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups. My performances increased when I started to understand why we needed to work this into my day to day, especially when I'm in a tournament bubble.
Going forward, I would definitely steer anyone who wants to try and eek every percentage point out of their performance towards sports psychology. This isn’t something that should be overlooked, especially if there’s a problem. This is a massive part of a player’s top performance.
Lorraine O’Malley: Building relationships and trying to be more person-centred in the support we provide is so important. So is sharing those experiences more widely with the other staff we work with, so they can get to know you the person as well as you the goalkeeper.
We, as sports psychologists, have training in trying to do those things, but also try to encourage other people in the wider multi-disciplinary team to take notice and start to get curious about your story and really listen to what you’re saying too.
We have to be able to be flexible and adaptable to be able to step into each other’s shoes. If we know your story and a bit about your past and what has shaped you it can help us to try and step into your shoes and non-judgementally see it from where you’re stood.
One way in which we try to do that is to increase your self-awareness and also the practitioner's self awareness. That's probably been one of the ways we’ve tried to bring you into the case conference.
We were able to bring you into that conversation and you were part of that and had some ownership of that. It was co-created, it wasn’t something that was being done to you.