In their important article about “how (not) to constrain your principles“, George Jones, René Maric and Moritz Kossmann discuss how possibilities in designing football training games (such as space, rules, over-/underload) might have not the intended effect – or even worse: might create a learning framework for the players that has totally unwanted (side)effects. Moreover, also when just „spoken language“ is used as a coaching tool, this is interdepending with learning of the players quite complex as well.
In this Spielverlagerung article, the value and effect of action language is being discussed profoundly. I don’t want to puch to much emphasis on it any more, as it’s very well described there – but I want to use it as an impulse for another language-related coaching constraint that I am sometimes considering when designing my training games. Thereby, my focus is not on how to use words when talking to your players, but on how words might help you to create a value-adding access to your designing process.
As a premise, obviously, take care of your own principles and their relation to the objective goal of the game: Score more often than the opponent. You need to be clear about these things and you need to be able to explain the relation between those and your game design all the time (even if it’s just to yourself). It’s not helpful in a reasonable way to fancy about cool designing possibilites without that.
As I am mostly coaching in youth football, my principles are, in sum, a lot about empowering the players regarding their conscious influence on the game, with respect to their individuality. Therefore, the starting point is often at helping the player to grasp the game that’s happening around him/her, and to understand his/her own role in these dynamics. Doing so, I sometimes go on the field in training, next to and on level with a player, to understand his/her issues better and to see angles and distances with his/her eyes. Or, I put emphasis on the direct effects of his/her own actions or positioning, saying things like: „If you run between these two players, what does this change for your teammate?“
To be honest, my coaching practice there does not always have a very clear and solid theoretical background – there’s rather some underlying conglomerate of personal experience in combination with some pedagogical and football “knowledge“ in the background, which probably has more influence on how I do things than the actual planning considerations. I think it’s important (and very helpful) to admit that sometimes and to try to explicate the implicit. Doing so, I identified the word „perspective“ as a helpful metaphor for my game designs and coaching considerations.
 If you get into doing this regularly, your whole theoretical background and therefore your coaching practice might get more „solid“ by the time, but naturally, some Dunning-Krüger-experiences will accompany you an that way. Vanity and comfort are antagonising here, and I have to admit, too often also in my
Why metaphors, and why „perspective“?
Why would you use metaphors, that probably have to be interpreted and therefore make things extra complicated? Well, one could argue, that all words or numbers you use to describe something are metaphors in the end. „As soon as we use nouns – or any other words – we re-create a fixed reality incompatible with the actual events. Matter, space, and time cannot be described with terms like plenum or occupancy, on the one hand, and emptiness or void, on the other.“ (Papin 1992, 1256). But however, words is all you have, and if you don’t want to slide in a shapeless relativism, you should get the best out of those metaphors – because as Papin further describes with Bohm & Peat, with the conscious use of metaphors, one admits the limitis of his/her conceptions on the one hand, but opens the way for exceeding insight. „[Bohm & Peat] are affirming, with Magritte as well as with modern philosophers and critics, that perception is ‘an intentional and not a passive act‘ (64). They stress metaphor’s creative and integrative role, as opposed to the descriptive and unveiling function of a given similarity that only the acute observer can see.“ (p.1261).
So, why should perspective be a good metaphor for game design and coaching? As I mentioned above, there are some (and more than the exemplarily told ones) coaching actions which can be put in some relation to perspective. Thereby, I want to discriminate roughly between two different subjects: The first one is about the best possible comprehension of the game in its spatio-temporal happening. The second one adresses the understanding of one’s own and of other player’s behaviours, but in the sense of reconstructing (normative) football decisions.
Before I give two game ideas, it should be mentioned that there are some very interesting approaches that explore perspective across various disciplines. E.g., there’s Hartmut von Sass‘ epistemological attempt „Perspektivismus“; Wolfgang von Blankenburg’s „Wahn und Perspektivität“ in a psychiatric context, Eduardo de Castros „Cannibal Metaphysics“ as an culture-theoretical observation, and obviously Deleuze & Guattari are relevant in this context as well. If anyone is further interested (or has something to add), feel free to reach out.
Rules: You should play with even numbers on this pitch and vary the size, just how it fits for your session. The rules are simple: In the red and pink field, you play towards the two outer goals. In the blue and yellow field, the teams try to score in the respective inner one. The game starts in the big red field, the field switches when the coach gives the sign to do so.
Coaching Points: Remind players to actively change their reference points for perception. And, as sizes and shapes differ, player’s positions differ as well: Help the players to actively do so. Further, you can give a hint that the opponent team has to change their positioning and perception reference points as well – how might this be used to one’s advantage?
What to expect? In my experience, you will have some player who immediatley use the added space when a field changes to the bigger resp. smaller distances tot he goals when it gets smaller. I try to point this out for those who struggle a bit more: The most effective way to do so is when you don’t take action against a player who get’s the ball (randomly) in the moment of change directly in front of a goal or so. This will raise other player’s attention.
Rules: This game is called The Brachiosaurus, and it’s for improving your player’s neck length in order to gain better orientation. No, actually, the shape is totally random – I am used to do some quick challenge in training, and then give lots of cones to the two or three winners, whose task is it to quickly build a big field with two goals in a shape they feel like. They always have so much fun doing it, that’s the first cool thing (tbh, I sometimes build the pitch on my own cause I have fun here as well). I suppose there are still some readers who think this is a joke, but except the Brachiosaurus part, it isn’t. The rules are easy, just two even teams play against each other.
The Coaching Points are obviously very individually, but mainly about encouraging your players: Tempt your opponents into traps! What is the coolest place on the pitch to play in? How might you get through that tiny part onto the next area? Have fun!
What to expect: Maybe you have to give some subtle feedback to the „designing players“ in order to smooth the way for their creativity. But once they see that it’s no problem if they have „crazy ideas“ here, they will enjoy it. By the time, I also experienced some players who wanted to design this because they already thought about how to use certain shapes for their own when playing, which is a cool sign that they think about their own game and put actions in a bigger context.
Another issue here is that you will have very useless areas here (depending on where you put the goal – in this case e.g. the area right tot he upper goal). Firstly, in my sessions, it happened not too often that the ball got there randomly, but when it got there, you get a very interesting situation: Players have to get out before they can think about the objective playing direction again. This is also a cool thing for helping your players to think in greater contexts, to plan their actions and be more creative in the true sense of the word. Secondly, you can ask your players to use this areas as pressing decoy for the opponent.
This might sound construed or like some kind of „just go out and have fun!“-thing, but what I actually observe when doing this is a maximum rate of players being focused and engaged due to the omnipresent chance of scoring opportunities coming out of nowhere resp. cool random situations happening all the time. Also, the players have to check all the time where the nearest sideline is, where the goal is in relation to oneself, and how to get there (because it’s much more obviously different every time than on normal pitches!)
Without any claim to constitute a thorough „principle“ or so, I wanted to share my experiences with the metaphor perspective in game design. I think it has the potential to start very useful patterns in games, regarding spatio-temporal comprehension and understanding normative decisions. Still, it is decisive that you, as a coach, not just leave it with that, but bring it in a context with your principles – and to transfer this context to your players. Following this last thought, I’d like to point at the Jones/Maric/Kossmann piece again.