Messi learning

How Messi (and everybody else) learns

There are several ways to get closer to the things of this world. In football, a lot is derived from “we have always done it this way” or “others do it that way” (so-called ‘Reasoning by Analogy’). In order to really get closer to the core and to stand on the foundation of the truth, ideas are based on clear and undisputed principles (so-called ‘First Principle Reasoning’). For our training, this means a look away from the field into the basic principles of learning before we can pack and implement them on the field.

“I think it is important to argue according to First Principles rather than analogies. The normal way we lead our lives is to argue by analogy. Analogies guide us to doing things the way they have always been done or how others do them. 'First Principles' reduce things to the most basic truths ... and then argue from there."

Images create our reality

Let’s put ourselves in Lionel Messi (cool feeling, right?) And see the world through his eyes. He gets the ball 40 meters from the goal, half right. He dribbles towards the goal, an opponent comes from the right and wants to take the ball from him. A short body deception later he is 25 meters free in front of the goal, looks up, takes a swing and plays a brilliant pass with left right through a gap to his teammate who scores a goal.

Let’s take a step back and look at the whole thing from the outside. What influenced his decisions? How did he know he was coming by with a simple body fake and how did he know that a pass is a better option than a shot?

The answer lies in the way we learn. Every moment of our life is seen as a picture. We take a photo every hundredth of a second, so to speak, which is saved forever. It is exactly the same with Messi. Every step of his dribbling and everything he sees is saved. Decisions are then based on the comparison between the current images (the dribbling described, for example) and previous similar images. The trial & error principle (i.e. the question “What has always been the most successful in this situation so far?”) Then leads to unconscious decisions.

Create the right images

What are the consequences for our training? Quite simply: We have to give the players the opportunity to collect as many pictures as possible so that they can make the best possible decisions on the game day. Trainers must be careful to put the players in situations that correspond to the game (with a certain amount of deviation). Triggers provide a good clue as to how this can be constructed as error-free as possible. Any behavior on the field of play, be it a pass, a shot, a movement without a ball – everything happens on the basis of information obtained from the environment. We call this a trigger.

Let’s take a closer look at what triggers are based on two types of training:

Scenario 1: The playing field is limited to half a field and a little more width than the penalty area. Outside zones are marked (approx. 5m wide). In the outer zones, the players have a free number of contacts, so they can dribble freely. Only two contacts are allowed in the middle zone. One could quickly get the idea that game shifts should be trained, because the ball is moved from one side to the other, because that is where most of the contacts are possible. However, the consequence is different: the players learn images that they will not find in the game. The game will never ‘dictate’ a relocation of the game through cones or rooms. This form of play provokes a shift in the game, but does not train it in any way.

Scenario 2: In this form of play, a provocation rule is set for the defending team. This may only defend in two adjacent zones. The team in possession of the ball finds the following situation (pictures): Many opponents in front of them and space on the other side. This results in the best solution to this task: a game shift. Here the tactic of “game shift” is trained and improved, since the best solution in this situation corresponds to the best solution in the later game. As a result, images are stored here that serve as a reference point in the corresponding game situation.

By the way: the first form of play provokes a game shift and consequently trains the behavior against a game shift.


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