THE BUILDING BLOCKS
The National Football Curriculum distinguishes 6 Building Blocks: 4 training Building Blocks and 2 playing Building Blocks.
The FFA Building Blocks Methodology is the framework that provides practical guidelines for coaches working at all levels of youth development in order to help them in answering questions such as:
- What are the mental and physical characteristics of players in the various development stages?
- What type of practices are best suited for specific age groups and why?
- How long should a session go for and how often should I train?
- How do I plan and design my sessions?
- What are points of interest when I coach my team during games?
With the aim to:
- Develop technically proficient players
- Develop tactically aware, proactive players
- Transform the physical and direct style of youth football in Australia to a successful style based upon technique and creativity
- To instil a lifelong passion and love for football in young players
- To create a real ‘football culture’ in Australia
The result of this approach must be future generations of players with the skills and habits to make Australia a successful contender on the World stage, both in men’s and women’s football. Does the Building Blocks methodology guarantee we will develop the next Lionel Messi in Australia? Unfortunately the answer is no, but this structured approach will certainly increase the chance.
There is no magic formula for developing special players but recent scientific research (Coyle; Ericsson, Gladwell; Syed et al) does provide some very interesting insights:
- Talent is not ‘innate’. Messi (or any other outstanding performer in sports, science or art) didn’t receive or inherit special ‘genes’ from birth
- Every world class performer has a history of many years of deep practice that started at a young age
- A condition for many years of deep practice is intrinsic and sustained motivation, a characteristic all top performers share.
No top performer has ever circumvented these rules! This doesn’t mean however that geniuses do not exist. The top teachers and coaches Daniel Coyle interviewed for his book “The Talent Code” pegged the genius rate (Messi!) at about one per decade.
Let us take a closer look at these insights.
If talent is not innate and excellence is the result of many years of sustained deep practice does that mean that anyone can become a top level player? Theoretically yes, although it’s not that simple.
Many people may have heard of the so-called “Rule of 10,000 hours”. This rule, introduced by the Swedish scientist Anders Ericsson, basically states that it takes 10,000 hours (or 10 years) of practice to reach a level of excellence in sports, science, art or any other field.
It is apparent that the quality of that practice is vital although, interestingly, research conducted by UK professor Mark Williams shows that time invested in non-organised practice, such as playing with mates in the park or juggling a ball in the back yard, is at least as important.
Quality of practice is clearly contingent on the importance of good coaching. Good coaching means purposeful practice and quality feedback.
Purposeful practice is always aimed at progress: after all, only by working at what you can’t do will you turn into the expert you want to become. And quality feedback is the rocket fuel that propels learning. Without it, no amount of practice is going to get you there because “if you don’t know what you are doing wrong you can never know what you are doing right”. Good coaches are therefore able to design practice so that feedback is embedded in the exercise, leading to automatic adjustment.
A GOOD WAY OF VISUALISING WHAT ‘PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE’ MEANS IS TO PICTURE SOMETHING ‘JUST BEYOND THE PLAYER’S REACH’ OR ‘JUST OUTSIDE SOMEONE’S COMFORT ZONE’, SO THERE IS A CHALLENGE BUT NOT ONE THAT IS TOO DIFFICULT.
Intrinsic motivation means that the player has developed a true passion for football and the motivation to become the best they can be comes from deep inside.
The chance of developing a passion for football is of course greater when you grow up in an environment with a real football culture, where you have role models and more and better opportunities. That is why developing a real football culture is so crucial for Australia.
It’s also important to realise that it is impossible to ‘impose’ motivation.
Pushy parents or coaches will achieve nothing (or the opposite of what they are looking for) if it isn’t the player’s own choice.
However if the motivation is intrinsic, the effect is very powerful.
One of the differences between good performers and the very best is that top performers are able to “push themselves harder for longer” because their motivation level is higher.
Intrinsic motivation by itself however is still not enough, for only sustained motivation leads to excellence.
A prerequisite for sustained motivation is what Professor Carol Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’, which basically means that mistakes are embraced and deficiencies confronted (“I can master this, I just have to practice harder”)
This mindset sees a setback as a motivational factor.
The opposite is called a ‘fixed mindset’; for those people, failure is a de-motivator (“I will never be able to do this, I just don’t have the talent”)
HERE, IT IS ALSO WORTHWHILE HIGHLIGHTING THE FACT THAT COACHES ALSO HAVE FIXED OR GROWTH MINDSETS, WHICH CAN AFFECT THEIR OWN DEVELOPMENT AS WELL AS THAT OF THEIR PLAYERS.
A growth mindset is a characteristic shared by
most top performers
How can a coach or parent stimulate the development of a growth mindset in players?
- Praise effort, not ‘talent’
- Emphasise that abilities can be transformed through application
- Emphasise that challenges are learning opportunities instead of threats
“FAILURE IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT”
To bring all of the above to life, FFA has developed the Building Blocks Methodology, outlining the logical and progressive steps necessary to achieve our long term goals.
- Football is a very complex game and takes at least ten years to master
- A step-by-step, phased approach is required, taking into account the age of the player
- The logical approach we have adopted in the Building Blocks can be summarised like this:
- simplified situations before complex ones
- Individual skills before team tactics
- football development before physical preparation
- The age groups stated are guidelines not absolute rules; girls and boys develop at different rates, and players of the same age may be at different developmental stages
- Each Building Block has a clear, distinguishable focus, but the player’s development should be viewed as a gradual, ongoing process towards game mastery
- It is an holistic approach, rather than a series of four isolated stages/concepts.
For example, although the focus in the Skill Acquisition Phase is on individual skill development, the player’s tactical insight is being developed at the same time, but using the ‘hidden learning’ approach. The coach uses training exercises which involve as many of the game-specific resistances (team-mates, opponents, direction, goals, etc) as possible, so that game awareness is automatically developed, rather than trying to ‘coach tactics’. Equally, technical development doesn’t stop at the end of the Skill Acquisition Phase; it continues throughout the Game Training and Performance Phases, although it is now not the main focus.