Why do coaches need a Game Model? Its all about just letting them play now, right?
"Without first structure, there can be no creativity".
In the following paragraphs we will explain exactly what a Game Model is and why it is one of the most important, yet under used tools in soccer. The Game Model is not intended to be a 'play book' or a dogmatic instruction of how to play like you might see an NFL coach use. Soccer is too fluid a game for play books to work or be effective, rather a Game Model is an overriding structure with guiding principles that should be followed when trying to engrain an expansive, possession and position-based style of play upon a team.
We say expansive and possession based because that is the philosophy that we believe in at King Knight but, truth be told, a Game Model can be used to teach principles of any style of football, direct, associative or anywhere in between.
The coach will not lose himself or his identity in the Game Model, rather he will use the common structures provided in the Game Model as a platform from which to improve and explore potential and possibilities. "Without first structure, there can be no creativity". The Game Model is the starting point for clubs or coaches to plan their sessions for the season, and the next few seasons beyond that. A coach must work backwards from the game of football itself when planning and forming tactics, "what does the big picture look like?" or "What are we trying to achieve here?". The coach will have an idea of what kind of football he wants to coach, and his players to play.
The Game Model codifies this into one document. From this, the coach should plan his sessions, periodize and know how he is going to coach on game day.
Practices should be 100% related to the Game Model. There is no point in having a Game Model and then running random practices just because the coach on the next field is doing so, or because you saw a really great session on the internet. If it doesn't apply to your Game Model directly then don't do it.
Vitor Frade would even go as far as not having any fun or light hearted games or recovery activities like the tic-tac-toe (naughts and crosses) that are now so popular on recovery days. Clubs might have their coaches wearing the same badge and uniform, but in reality they are often just a bunch of random coaches doing whatever they want on the day of practice, with no structure or theme. No rhyme or reason. For example, if a coach has no players over 5 feet tall and only uses short corners in games, then there is no point spending time practicing attacking long corners during the week. There are more directly-related practices they could be doing, sessions that actually feedback in to your Game Model and style of play.
This is a crude example, but you get the principle. Once the coach has a clear idea of his Game Model, and a well-planned out, structured, organized and related set of session plans at his disposal, he is already way ahead of most coaches at the youth level.
There is a lot of academic debate surrounding Game Models in recent times.
A small community of academia suggests that Game Models should not be utilized at youth level because of the constraints they put on children.
The implication being that by implementing a Game Model, we are robbing them of a freer-form of development or stifling their creativity.
By providing structure in one direction, we are robbing them of the opportunity to develop in another.
Well what, then, is the alternative? Just let them play?
Well-meaning proponents of the constraints-led approach (as are King Knight), suggest that sessions should be designed to "constrain to afford".
And we agree. This type of session design forms a large part of our methodology.
But what they fail to see, is that a Game Model is merely a codified way of conveying the same thing.
If a proponent of the constraints led approach runs a season's worth of sessions in this fashion, well what is so different?
The coach is still imposing their style and philosophy on the players?
By running sessions that are constraints based, by their very definition, the coach has constrained, restricted or outright prevented certain aspects of behavior and freedom of the player from being explored.
Not really any different from having a Game Model.
The benefits of a Game Model though are that it is codified, written down, consistent, planned out and can be shared and referred back to by coaches, players and parents.
Everyone knows where they stand.
In terms of player development then, it would seem to us at King Knight that a JdP Game Model has the most benefit of any to a young player because it predominantly focusses on space management and technical excellence (one must remember that JdP can be quite sterile if the players don't have the technical qualities to execute it) which are, after all, the most important elements of the game of soccer.
We appreciate your thoughts.
Please also listen to the below podcasts on the topic from one of our founders, PJ King.