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Door 19: Priming – How to nudge your players to act as you want

Today an old author of KF makes his comeback to take our topic to a meta leval and investigate a question which resonates in all articles in this calendar: How can a coach get his players to act on the pitch as he imagines them?

You can find me on Twitter: Burr

Briefly Explained: Priming as a psychological Construct

Basically, Priming is the psychological construct, after which the presentation of a stimulus enables the faster processing of another stimulus afterwards.

The following joke is based on it: What color has snow? What color has the wall? What color have clouds? What drinks the cow?

If you were tempted to say “Milk” to last question, this is because you imagined the color white beforehand. Both, then again, are associated. Subconscious Priming this effect is called and is based on the premise of a associative network inside our brain.

In the following, priming was extendet towards multimodal effects. So can verbal or optical stimuli  also trigger behavior to a later point in time. For you as a coach, the following idea is important. You should try to prime a specific behavior in your training in the week – so that it is more likely to occur on the weekend. This way, the coach can indirectly realize his or her ideas on the pitch.

Some possibilities to Prime

Verbal Explanations

The most obvious option is to simply tell your players what you want them to do. The should try to look for long balls to our 9? I just tell them!

However, it should also be clear that this is not the most effective way. Is it really the best way to tell your player for the 20. time that he should dribble less? Probably not. Here it is especially important to take over the perspective of the player. On the pitch we rarely take completly conscious decisions but rather it is an interaction between the situational awareness and the player’s technical possibilities. This is why, it is more effective to change his or her perception or internal interpretation structure (or the situation itself = Einbindung). See: the following model for behavior

Nevertheless, the verbal addressing remains a vital key for any Coach. Yet, we should be aware, that it is limited – and when the players cannot action the coaches ideas, it is also his fault. In the following better alternatives shall be explained.

Better: Emotional Speech and Explanations

I want to mention that a good request always contains an explanation. It clarifies the background, when an action is appropriate, and therefore is more convincing and more likely to be executed.

Secondly, the option of an emotional speech shall be noted. In an emotional manner more information can be transported in a compact manner. One positive example here is surely Jürgen Klopp. After a first half against ManCity, where Liverpool was largely dominated he urged his team to be more brave. “If the want the ball from you, they need to kill you!”. Interestingly, this promt was reasonable in a tactical manner, although it was not communicated tactically. In fact, his players took more risks in the second half and were able to hold the ball longer and shift the game to the other half.

Motorically Grind In

The simplest option is, to design mechanical tasks for the players where they show the exact same behavior you want them to execute on saturday. The task primes the planned behavior.

However, in simple tasks the learning rate is smaller than in free play. First, players will make no or small steps in their technical execution.

Second, the behavior is less accessible because we lack cues which tell us when to show it. On the other hand, grinding in can lead to very rigid schemas of behavior, which leads to a blind execution without considering the situation. This kills creativity and leads to oversimplicstic decisions.

Differential Learning in Free Play

Virtually all session you will find in this year’s calender will be of this category. KF tries to pursue a differential learning idea and design tasks of free play where players find solutions for themselves.

Major – but side – advantages is the superiority in motorical learning and the similiarity to the conditional requirements of a match.

Besides, the behavior is also primed more effectively. This is because it is linked to more realistic cues which can trigger the behavior in the real situation. Cue means key, which accesses the memory. With a behavior all those situative cues are connected which were encoded in the situation where it was execuded. They then again can trigger the behavior.

It should be the goal to construct a task, which generates the to be trained behavior. This is typically done by adapting the outer reward function (goals after one-touch count double) or outer rules (special field lines). Both should enable the players to discover the behavior freely for themselves. Thereby it is automatically more memorable.

Important is, yet, that such a connection between cue in training and such in the game exists. You should develop connecting point between your sessions and the game (eg. what to do when our defender has the ball in out own half). If we train behavior (like passes behind the back) it has little advantage when I don’t ensure that my team actually comes into such situations.