The Science of Football


Let’s roll something different. Football is always referred to as being scientific without further elaboration. This is either due to the assumption that everybody knows all aspects of the game, or lack of depth of the statements.

Basically, what and when one eats, where they sleep and how much of that sleep they get, their state of mind and emotional condition are just part of the bigger picture. The physical condition has always been the only parameter of concern to managers and coaches.

Furthermore, training and practise sessions have been progressing to an extent of making the whole process a widely studied subject with biological and medical facts.

The compilation of information and data and the utilisation thereof, is ever more important now than at any other time. The relevance of this exercise and the execution of the findings has made coaching not an everyday exercise for every Jack and Jill.

Given the statistics and data, one is expected to deduce, change and improve training methods. At this point, even the creation of drills and exercises, but again, within given guidelines as determined by own or expert research.

As an example, players usually train as a group and compared willy nilly to each other. The norm would be the urge to push everyone to the level of the others who are ‘better performing’ without looking at the reasons why certain performances are attained by these players.

To illustrate this point crudely, long distance runners will not spent time practising sprints, neither will sprinters run marathons all their training lives. The physical build, the roles athletes play, the conditions around and the need improving particular performance are some of the dictates of preparation or training.

In this digital era, thank God, there are instruments that will show the inputs and output of players as they perform. These can be utilised to record this performance from time to time and the filing of this information is so vital for reference. It becomes a barometer of performance and players will be encouraged if they see their progress on selected intervals, and when they do not perform, records will speak for themselves.

Many footballers and sports persons have died on the pitch, easily coming to mind being Cameroon’s Vivian Foe, who collapsed on the pitch during a Confederations Cup a few years back, only to die a few hours later. While incidents like this may be hard to detect at every occurrence, technology helped detect Nwankwo Kanu’s heart problem that needed delicate heart surgery. In the absence of these gadgets, Kanu may have not survived long in the game but after that successful operation, he went on to play over 10 years winning accolades. 

A different look of the science of the game, is the mathematics part; the statistics. This is a bunch of numbers that will mean nothing to the less shrewd mentors of our game today. To many, it is just for academic purposes. To the astute, every bit is a gram of gold and can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Data can be used to map out a training session. Usually, this can be about your own team, showing the strengths and weakness at a particular time of the match, in a certain area of the pitch under certain conditions or phases of play.

Not to be forgotten is the fact that the information is almost as available and as vital as the same data of the previous and future opponents, and for the same reasons. The analysis of the stats can then be used to formulate a training session and the strategies and tactics of the matches as they come.

It must be noted that one does not have to wait for data and situations to occur to map out a training session. There should be a 5 year plan divided into seasons and then semi-annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily programs. This will reflect the philosophy of the coach in general. The availability of collected data only means modification of training methods o the existing schedules.

Previous and next matches will have a lot of say on how the training should be conducted. This will include whether it is cup matches, tournaments or league matches. It will depend on the previous results, as in whether the match was won, drawn or lost and why.

While statistics for public consumption is nice to the ear, it may not be as useful to the coaches and managers, but good mentors will always find a way to utilise data as long as it is accurate. It becomes imperative that whoever collects and supplies information for technical purposes be schooled enough to know what to look for and enter this information as accurately as possible.

Good coaches will see and hear many things others cannot observe. This eye for details will be the difference between a coach and a fly-by-night. Fly by night coaches comes across disregarding planning and detailed approach to the game and playing mind-games with players. They enjoy a lot of success in the short-term.

When the wheels come off the wagon, they start to press panic buttons and the tumble from glory is a shameful hard fall. Some will control the situation by using the statistics as a psychological tool, and this can be vital if done correctly.

The best scenario is to utilise the data for improving training methods and performance as well as a psychological weapon. Here, a point coming to mind is when a team for the next home fixture did not afford a shot at goal in the previous match. A coach or manager will challenge his players against this, emphasising, say, the 20 shots his team fired in their own last match.

Either way, there is more science to the game that paper or cyber space can take. In this era, good coaching is about observing, finding and utilising this to better the group you work with. Knowing your team is a science on its own. Remembering how different your team is from the last group you coached gives you a head start. Dealing with the players according to their strengths in terms of talent and attitudes will get you unsolicited mileage in a surprising way.

As a good coach, get to know well the social aspects and interest of everyone. Get to their way of life with tact and draw a line between business and social life, because you will not endear yourself well if you come across as a dictator though with some players, it helps.

Read minds and do it well first time every time.

(Only by Keutsepilemang Ndebele for www.tsendex.wordpress.com )

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