One freezing night this January, I was sitting in the Camp Nou with a Barcelona official, watching Barca-Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Cup. When the game kicked off, the official said, "Watch Messi."
It was a puzzling sight. The little man was wandering around, apparently ignoring the ball. The official explained: "In the first few minutes he just walks across the field. He is looking at each opponent, where the guy positions himself, and how their defense fits together. Only after doing that does he start to play."
The stats tell the story. Messi has never scored in the first two minutes of a match. All his 442 goals for club and country came after that. Moreover, his career haul for the third and fourth minutes combined is a meager three strikes. Admittedly the opening minutes of most matches are pretty closed. However, Messi in this period is scoring at less than one-sixth of his normal rate. Instead, he spends the time doing an on-field analysis.
This points to a truth that we often miss amid the frenzy of top-class soccer: It's a thinking game, much less spontaneous than it looks. Even apparently instinctive creators and goal scorers like Messi are forever making calculations, often very conscious ones. To understand today's soccer, you need to grasp these conscious thought processes.
We are getting used to the idea that defensive players tend to move around in patterns dictated by their coaches, almost like in American gridiron football. This is becoming truer as soccer clubs employ growing tribes of video and match analysts to study opponents.
The consequence is that players for big teams now enter matches thoroughly briefed on what to do. Months before the World Cup in Brazil began, every man in the German squad had access to an app on which the team's many analysts would post useful videos. Before the France-Germany quarterfinal, the analysts emphasized one video in particular: an apparently unremarkable scene of the Dutchman Daley Blind tracking his opponent in a Holland-Germany under-21s match in 2013.
You watch the video and forget it almost instantly: The German attack peters out, with the Dutch keeper easily picking up a low pass. But that's because Blind was doing something crucial: After two German players attempted a one-two pass, he didn't follow the ball but kept running with the German who had started the move, staying with him until the attack was dead.
It was exactly the right thing to do. The German analysts expected Blind's defensive ploy to be especially important against the French, whose soccer culture traditionally favors one-twos. The German players studied Blind, and then did as he did. They shut out the previously impressive French 1-0.
Before the semifinal against Brazil and the final against Argentina -- two other countries that like one-twos -- the players watched the Blind video again. When the German FA's chief data analyst Chris Clemens told this story to the Dutch journalist Michiel de Hoog, he even suggested a headline for his article: "How Daley Blind saved Germany's World Cup."
That's the pre-planned nature of modern defending. But for creative players, planning and thinking work rather differently. You can't tell them how to beat a man. However, the best ones, like Messi, do the thinking for themselves. Even when surrounded by opponents in high-speed situations when a normal person would have to rely entirely on instinct, they think fast enough to process data in their minds.
In 2004, Carlos Queiroz, then coach of Real Madrid's Galacticos, told the author John Carlin how great players see on-field situations. "Imagine two cars colliding. For us it happens at normal speed," Queiroz said. "They see it in slow motion. They catch a lot more details in the same time as us. They can compute in their minds more details than you and I can see.
"Therefore they have more time than others. The great ones see the game in slow motion, but really it is in normal time."
If you can see the field, you can see the openings. The longtime director of AC Milan's "Milan Lab," the Belgian doctor Jean Paul Meersseman, told me that this quality of "sensory perception," "interpreting detail inside the brain," may be the most important in soccer. It matters more than any physical gifts. When I asked Meersseman who had it, he named the Brazilian Ronaldo: "He can perceive situations so fast and react to it, it's just amazing."
In part, great players can do this because they have imagined the situation long before it happens. This is the psychological technique of visualization. Look at how Diego Maradona, in his autobiography, describes his famous dribbled goal against England in 1986. He starts by saying, "The goal was a kid's dream." In other words, he had visualized it for years in advance.
Then, even while he was dribbling through half the England team, he was watching his teammate Jorge Valdano make a run to the far post. Maradona kept meaning to pass to him, but the moment was never quite right, and in the end he found that he had beaten everyone including the keeper, so he just scored. In short: In his mind, things were happening so slowly that he could keep one eye on Valdano.
Lastly, at some point after the goal Maradona recalled something his brother Hugo, nicknamed "El Turco," or "The Turk," had told him after a game in 1981, when Maradona had dribbled through the Scotland team but then shot against the keeper. "Idiot!" El Turco had chided him over the phone. He told Maradona he ought to have dribbled around the keeper. Five years later against England, that piece of advice was lodged somewhere in Maradona's brain, ready for use.
Wayne Rooney -- often wrongly derided as not the smartest person -- consciously visualizes. "Part of my preparation," he told the writer David Winner for ESPN The Magazine in 2012, "is I go and ask the kit man what colour we're wearing, if it's red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks. Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualize myself scoring goals or doing well. You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a 'memory' before the game. I don't know if you'd call it visualizing or dreaming but I've always done it, my whole life."
The best players tend to have an exceptional visual memory. That enables Messi to store his observations about opposing defenders. Schalke 04's Dutch center-forward Klaas Jan Huntelaar, whom Louis van Gaal once called "the best striker in the world in the 'sixteen,'" that is, in the penalty area, can describe in exquisite detail opponents' positions on goals he scored years before. Huntelaar told me he usually didn't shoot on instinct. "The moment when I shoot, I reason through my position." Sometimes he will have observed that a keeper is weaker going to one side, or that a defender is easier to beat on his right than his left. All that information will go into Huntelaar's shot. When I remarked that it sounded as if he had his own personal GPS system, he joked: "Yes, it's in the back of my head."
What players like Huntelaar are doing is conscious but almost impossibly rapid decision-making. If you are a player in scoring position in a big game, teammates and opponents are moving in different directions around you. You have to estimate where everyone will be in 0.1 seconds from now, and then again in one second, make your decision accordingly, and then execute it in a tiny space with almost no margin for error.
It's like a combination of chess and NASCAR racing. If great players make their decisions look instinctive, that's only because their pace of thought is so rapid. Rooney said to Winner: "After the game, mentally you're tired as well. Your mind has been through so much. There's so many decisions you have to make through your head, and then you're trying to calculate other people's decisions as well. It's probably more mentally tiring than physically, to be honest."
Messi and Rooney are not scintillating conversationalists. But appearances deceive. In truth they are among the sharpest thinkers around.
Simon Kuper is a contributor to ESPN FC and co-author, with Stefan Szymanski, of Soccernomics.
This article first appeared on ESPN FC and was written by Simon Kuper. You can see the original article HERE
Ever wonder how top level players became SO good? Check this Skill Station out with pro players Bev Yanez, current NWSL Defender of the Year Lauren Barnes and BMS Seattle trainer Othaniel Yanez.
Watch the video above, and below I break each drill down for you!
You’ll need a partner. Lay out your cones similarly to in the photo below; you’ll need your line of cones as well as four others (circled below). The four must be different colors, because your partner will be calling out colors at random. You’ll have to quickly leave your line of cones in the center, stay low, and dribble to the cone corresponding to the color called. Get out to the cone and back to the center as quickly as possible, keeping the ball close and under control.
Dribble S.A.Q. Pass
You’ll need a partner and two lines of eight cones each. One person dribbles through the cones with the ball, practicing whichever footwork he or she needs to. The other player travels in the opposite direction, practicing ladder footwork, sans ball. Once both players reach the ends of their respective lines, the ball is passed and the dribbling resumes on the opposite side. Fast footwork and close control are the keys to this skills station.
Y Drill 2
This one is a little easier to watch than to describe, but you’ll see the cone set up below, and you can watch the example in the video above. The name Y Drill comes from the Y formation of the cones, as shown. Each branch of the Y is a different station. You’ll need a partner to play balls to you at each of the stations (while the partner is not taking such an active role in this one, pass accuracy is key to ensure the drill runs smoothly!) Once Player 1 runs through the Y once, he or she will switch with Player 2.
First Touch Boxes
This drill is “all about receiving on the turn,” explains Copeland-Smith. All you need is a simple cone set up, as shown below, and a partner. The partner outside the box plays a ball in fast (the faster it is, of course, the tougher to keep it under control with a perfect first touch). The receiving player must control the ball on the first touch, turn, and play the ball back out.
All of these drills will help with your ball control, first touch and to strengthen your weak foot, as well as other things!
So you've got your kill touch down, but you struggle to find space immediately? This is what we call the 'progressive' touch here at Beast Mode Soccer. Check out the drill below with MLS legend James Riley and pro player and long time #teamBMS member Brooke Elby.
In this drill we use five different progressions: Inside of Foot, Outside of Foot, Inside Roll, Poke Around and Shimmy!
Give it a go and let us know how you get on!
HI Everyone. I just had to share this email I got from soccer parent Chad Rzewnicki!
I wanted to reach out to you and thank you. My oldest Drake Rzewnicki was just invited to Stoke City National Camp yesterday. He plays U11 for the Des Moines Menace (PDL team organization + academy). He has worked extremely hard to get his skills up to compete at this level. Most of which I have to accredit to the The Soccer Vortex. We have spent hours upon hours working on this stuff. But, I would of never known what to show him without your help. So I thank you again. As far as I know he was 1 of 2 kids at his age group picked from our area in Iowa. The other one that was picked (Drake’s training partner) who also happens to be a Vortex user. I showed his Dad the Vortex last year and he got on board after that. Both of these kids will represent their club and BMS soccer well! They have great attitudes and a tremendous work ethic for only being 10 years old.
The one big thing we will be working on this winter to get ready for the camp is shot power. Right now Drake has a very natural curve with his shots (both right and left) but lacks the power to hit from too far out. All of his coaches have commented on how nice he can hit the natural curve on the ball. But, he lacks the power from the 18 or out. We will get to work on that right away.
Once again thanks for putting this all together!
What a great email to wake up to! You can tell that these two players know that Champions Do More! If you haven't checked out The Soccer Vortex yet, take a look HERE
The biggest problem that most players faced when training on their own or with their friends is that they just do not know what to work on! Well guess what... We have you covered!
We recently teamed up with our friends at soccer.com to bring you a full video with one of our four drill Skills Stations. Not only that but we have pro players Beverly Goebel-Yanez and Lauren Barnes, as well as Beast Mode Soccer Seattle Trainer Othaniel Yanez! Check it out here:
As with everything Beast Mode Soccer, your focus should be on clean technique. The great thing about these drills is that you are constantly mentally overloaded, thinking about movements, eye ball coordination, and clean technique.
Grab some teammates, some cones and a ball then head outside to improve TODAY!
This is the first of two Skills Stations that will have for you. The next one will be coming next month!
If you are looking for a complete individual training program, check out The Soccer Vortex... the most comprehensive system on the planet!
Soccer juggling! I always hear that just because you can juggle does not mean you can play soccer... And it's true... BUT... I have never met a great soccer player that cannot juggle!
We like our players to juggle a tennis ball, skills ball and a regular sized ball as part of our warm up. Sometimes we will also throw in some old UNC routines, and also... The juggle ladder! Check it out below
Juggling a soccer ball helps your first touch, eye ball coordination and balance, just to mention a few things. Aim to juggle for at least 10 minutes a day!
At Beast Mode Soccer we are known for producing truly phenomenal 1v1 artists. Players who can absolutely dominate their defenders in 1v1 situations and can just turn the game! There are many, many facets to becoming a true 1v1 artist, but one of them is having the confidence to do moves in a game... And you learn that by doing them in game like situations! Check out the video below, which highlights our favorite 1v1 game, 'Nutmeg Knockout.'
So there you go... One cog in our wheel on how we make 1v1 artists! Give it a go!
How do players have that flawless, velvet type first touch? Easy.... Practice! Below we have a video of one of our favorite drills that teach players how to get that coveted 'kill' touch. We simply set up a 2x2 (or bigger if you need more space to start with) box, have two teammates 10-20 yards away. They play the ball in and you have to control the ball, with your first touch inside the box!
Simple right? Well... It sounds it. Watch as #teamBMS member Morgan succeeds time after time, but more importantly, watch her body, watch the shape of it, watch the shape of her feet, how she kills the pace of the ball with her control:
We will be adding more and more videos to the blog, so be sure to check back!
How should I feel at peak performance?
In short, you should be relaxed yet energized. Your best state for performance is being slightly above your normal level of stimulation. You shouldn’t feel like you just had a double espresso, but you also shouldn’t feel like you just ate a Thanksgiving feast. Don’t mistake the stimulants of energy drinks with your natural own high. You definitely don’t want to be bouncing off the walls and jittery. Think calm, cool, collect with the ability to turn up the heat!
How can I achieve my optimal state?
It takes confidence, focus, control, and enjoyment.
When you are confident, you have positive thoughts of success. You know you are going to succeed. There is expectation. You aren’t scared or nervous. Being a little nervous won’t hurt you, but it shouldn’t be your affecting your psyche negatively. Confidence is within yourself, in your teammates, in your coach, in the gameplan. You trust your preparation and you trust yourself. Your instincts are true and your intuition is on point.
Focus cannot be forced. You have to be it and feel it. It might help if you try hard to be in it, but in the end, it has to be true. You have to be in the now. You are present in the moment with all distractions out of your mind. You could be in a stadium of 100,000 people and you wouldn’t be bothered by it. Having complete focus sends your energy in the right places.
You are in control. What you want to happen does happen. Everything you do is what you want. It almost comes at ease. Every touch, pass, movement is effortless. You don’t want be a robot, but you also don’t want your thoughts or emotions to affect you. It is almost like you are on autopilot.
You cannot perform at your best if you are not enjoying the moment. You can be withdrawn, bored, or uneasy. When you are having fun, you play your best games. You are in the moment enjoying and taking it in.
These four things contribute to your state of peak performance. Next time you play a game or practice check in with yourself and how you are doing in these departments. If one is lacking, how can you elevate that component? What can you do to feel more confident or why do you lack in confidence? Why aren’t you having fun? Why can’t you focus? What makes you feel like you aren’t in control? By dissecting these issues, you can figure out how to be at your state of peak performance.
If you want a resource with more than just footwork in, check out our introductory training system, '2 Weeks to Better Soccer' here:
Until next time, remember this always... CHAMPIONS DO MORE!