For Parents, Science

Why our opinion is not as relevant as we think it is – Part 1

2015 marks the 15th year that I have been working in soccer.  In that time, I have had thousands of conversations with coaches, parents, and players, at virtually all of the different levels of the game.  Upon reflecting on these conversations it has become apparent to me that many of us subjectively think and feel that we are experts in soccer, and that we know and understand the game better than everyone else around us.  In Part 1 of this article, I will discuss how and why our subjective opinions can hamper player development.  Next week, in Part 2, I will provide some insight into strategies that we as coaches and fitness coaches can use to ensure that we remain objective in our work.

In soccer, this aforementioned subjective attitude manifests itself in many different ways.  For example, parents who are certain that their child is not being played in the “right position”, or that, even though their child is being benched, he/she is clearly “a better player” than the player who is starting ahead of them.  Coaches, too, are often guilty of using subjective opinions to make decisions.  Examples of these include the opinion that, while they may not be the best at running training sessions, they are “experts” in talent identification; or that they do not need to use any sports science or performance monitoring because they “can see” how well their players are playing and how hard they are working; and finally that they have chosen to use a particular training exercise or session because “that’s the way we used to train when I was a player.”  As s sports scientist, I work almost exclusively with objective scientific data, yet I also have been guilty of this subjective attitude, at times pushing players harder than I should have, or running training sessions for a longer duration than necessary.

I find it fascinating that we in soccer are sometimes so easily manipulated by our own subjective opinions, and even worse that we often willingly ignore objective scientific data simply because we are convinced that we “know better.”  In an excellent book called “The Science of Fear”, author Daniel Garland reviews dozens of studies on the human brain which have determined that, while we often think we are being “rational” (or objective) when making decisions in our everyday lives, the great majority of the time were act in a completely “irrational” (or subjective) manner.  This is because as early humans, we needed to rely almost entirely on the irrational/subjective part of our brain in order to survive.  Today, because we are living in a world in which most of us are safe and have access to shelter, food, water and all the basic necessities of life, we should be using the rational and objective parts of our brain more; however, research has indicated that we have become “hard-wired” to rely on the irrational/subjective part of our brain.

In soccer, making decisions based on subjective opinions rather than on objective facts can have serious negative consequences where player development is concerned.  There is simply no way for coaches and fitness coaches to assess, monitor, and adjust their players’ training and match performance without the use of objective facts.  Significant advances in almost all areas of soccer-specific sports science – including skilled performance and motor learning, aerobic/anaerobic training, strength training, injury prevention and warm-up, sports psychology, and nutrition – have been made since I started working in the sport 15 years ago.  Today, coaches and fitness coaches even have access to technology that allows them to assess, monitor, and track all aspects of their players’ performance, including technical, tactical, and physical performance parameters.  If we continue to willfully ignore objective scientific data when planning and implementing soccer training, we will never be able to maximize the development of the players we work with.

The examples I provided earlier can be used to highlight the value of using objective facts instead of subjective opinions in soccer.  If coaches use standardized, objective methods to assess players’ performance in different positions on the field, then theirs – or their parents’ – subjective opinions about whether or not a player is playing in the “right position” would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the objective facts.  If coaches use standardized, objective methods to identify and assess young talented players, then any one coach’s subjective opinion about how much of an “expert” they are in talent identification would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the facts.  And if coaches use standardized, objective methods to assess and monitor their players’ responses and performance in training, and then objectively check and assess how these training methods impact players’ match performance, then the subjective opinion that “we used to train this way when I was a player” would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the facts.

Ultimately, we as soccer coaches and fitness coaches should make optimizing and maximizing player development our primary concern.  If objective, scientific facts challenge our own subjective opinions, we as coaches and fitness coaches must remain open-minded and be willing to change, regardless of how strongly-held our subjective opinions might be.  If we can use a standardized, objective approach to all aspects of their soccer training and competition – including talent identification, planning of training and player development, and training/match performance monitoring – then the negative impact of subjective opinions, bias, and human error can be minimized or even eliminated.  Next week, in Part 2 of this article, I will provide simple, practical, and easy-to-use examples of how to incorporate objective scientific facts into soccer training and match play.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

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3 thoughts on “Why our opinion is not as relevant as we think it is – Part 1

  1. Stephen Tutton

    As a 58 year old who grew up in England, had a soccer ball (football) at my feet at every recces and lunch break, going to and from school. I played on organized soccer teams until I got married at 26. I have a 31 son, twin 28 year old sons and a soon to be 16 year old daughter. I have coached and assisted in coaching soccer with all my children so I am of the opinion that I know a little bit about soccer, and I know much more about my children’s soccer skills than any coach, or do I? I have only ever coached “house league” soccer so when my kids played at a “rep” level I felt that I was more help to them as a Dad than as there rep soccer coach. I don’t think that it is healthy for a rep coach to have his child on his team, for several reason, but as coaches are volunteers this won’t change. After reading this article I agree with it in general terms, however a balance is required between an experienced coach using his knowledge and his use of technology. There is a large human factor in team sports. Once the coaching staff have used technology to field the best team they can on paper, it is the coaching staffs job to discover the personality traits of the individual players. Which players play well together and the ones that don’t. I feel that individual player development will thrive using objective facts derived from scientific testing and if entire teams were able to go through a standardized objective method of testing then it would most certainly assist the coaching staff in team development. I could say more, but I will conclude with this. Soccer is FUN it must always be FUN if not, whats the point? So whatever we do lets have fun.

  2. richard@soccerfitnessgols.com

    Hi Stephen,
    thanks for your reply/comment.
    I agree with you that parents should not coach their own children, and I also agree that a balance in needed between a coach using his/her own experience, as well as technology. What I mean when I advocate for “standardized, objective methods” goes far beyond just the use of technology. For example, coaches and scouts can and should use an objective rating / scoring system to evaluate – and eventually to identify – talented players. This would not necessarily require the use of any technology; just a standardized form and system of assessment (for example, a “0-10” score sheet). Players’ technical ability, tactical performance, physical ability, and even their personality, could be assessed in this way. If a standardised, objective approach was used across multiple different leagues and age groups, then some norms could be created, and players’ scores could then be compared to these norms. Coaches who then have to make decisions about players that need to be “cut” could provide useful and objective feedback to these players, which in the end will make everyone feel they are being treated fairly. I actually think this would make the game more “fun” in the long run.

    Next week I will introduce some suggestions (based on current sports science research and also what is being done in successful clubs around the world) about how to incorporate standardized, objective methods into soccer training and match play. Hope you enjoy it and looking forward to your thoughts/comments!

    • Stephen Tutton

      Again I agree with a standardized rating system, it makes sense. It is noteworthy that when I coached house league soccer in Aurora we had a rating system for all are players and at the start of the season each coach was allowed to pick a certain number of “A” players and “B” all the way down to beginner this enabled the teams to be more competitive during the season and for the most part it worked.It was important that each coach filled out an accurate report on each player at the end of the season to assist choosing next seasons teams. A more in depth system for rep players would be required. Starting with the basic information on the players card. A detailed excel spread sheet for each player could be filled out a couple of games into the season and at the end of the season. This will be a major undertaking and well worth the effort.

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