The Same Word But Different Worlds

In the last 12 months, I have been very interested to understand what does “development” truly means in futsal/soccer to the level of world class detail. Its a term used a lot and in every web page. After researching and hearing from some of the best world National coaches, this is the best understanding for me:

1.  First: quality of training, based on knowledge, education, research, curiosity and international exposure.

2.  Second: deep training environment, this is indeed one of the top qualities of top programs. It has some very clear underlying elements, such as independent vs interdependent training,  level of detail and correction, focused intensity and a lot more.

3.  Patience: has to follow the first two above. It can not lead :), as previous two must take place, but patience must follow for true development.

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Development Through Creating

I recently had the honor and privilege to host here the Spanish National Team Futsal Coach for 11 years. Needless to say that the amount of learning and level of details was beyond anything we had seen before.

However, one element that was something very special to consider, was the feedback to “create.” I tried to ask and understand this better. The idea was that a quality coach must invest time in creating.  Creating what? How much time? Creating his way and player way, staying up in late hours to design activities that are original, new, make training plans, try, correct, try again.

Every coach knows that they have to create and make plans, but this is different. Why? For starters the amount of time that a top coach invests, is a lot more then one thinks. Its also the discipline to invest time and energy everyday to create and grow.  The intensity and focus is a lot more then what one would think, the detail and way of thinking is very different. And of course this is tied with coaching education, as one grows, the element to create also grows.

As I think about this, I remember the book “the talent code:, where some of the elements of top experts (in any field) were training hours, deep training, training environment. The amazing thing in any field, a  futsal player, a futsal coach, a soccer player or coach, a violin player and so on, is that action always succeeds.  In other words, to get to that one level, action has to be the leading force. Start, keep trying. Then correct, and try again. Finally, choose training environment that gives you also a deep training environment, with substance, not flavors.

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Is It?

Flavors vs Real Substance. Flavors come and go, substance always stays.  It is a good angle from a players perspective to self train with substance and to search for good substance not flavors and to train a lot, strong and more importantly intelligent.

No beautiful words replace training a lot, strong and intelligent.

As a coach, this is very similar to the path of a player. Asking why, always creating, correcting, and never stopping working strong.  No different then players, as a coach search Work Ethic, Research, Real Substance, Search Differently, Be Original, Be Curious, Train A Lot, Correct & Repeat, Never Stop.

Excellence takes time, is patient, but truly makes every day beautiful, different and honest.

Ilir Lushaj

Madison Futsal Director

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First, Love The Game:

First, Love The Game:

I wanted to briefly touch on this concept as a key element toward high quality players.  While there is absolute evidence that coaching environments will impact a player’s ability on level of play, there is great information that for a player to function at higher levels (output) there must be an equal amount of the training (input) to create that balance.

Another way to look at this is the “want” versus “love.”  If a player or TEAM wants to play high level without loving that process, he/she will always be a move behind, analyzing why instead of working to grow.  He or she will always look at adding more superficial layers versus depth of stability, looking at the next school instead of creating new levels with what you have.

Practical applications:

Focusing on loving the process of training not just the outcome of it.  Training daily, training when no one is watching, training to the point of exhaustion, then training again, then again and again, all with humility/gratitude and respect to love the process, visualizing, looking less for the next and the next thing and more and more on doing more with what we have, building character (doing the right thing when no one is watching), training gratitude toward others, respecting all as a way of growing, training, training, training,

Some of world examples on these qualities: Rugby team All Blacks in Australia that after a game in front of 60.000 spectators cleans locker rooms together to be humble and respect, Youth Brazilian players that train for 4 hours 5 days a week with a lot of free play, Tennis schools in Moscow where they do a lot imaginary ball play, school of music in New York where professor literally rewires students brain by making timed corrections and students capture that moment to grow, and many, many more.

While nothing is guaranteed in terms of development and growth: its certain that if one puts minimum amount of training in will get minimum out, if one puts average in gets average out, above average in will bring you above average out, and loving the process to give all in your capability doing all that you can, will eventually get you to what you thought you cant.  Patience, patience, patience is of key importance for true growth.

Perhaps we can view this beautiful game as a beautiful mountain: a) Love it from start to destination, b) Want it less forcefully, c) Give every inch and breath to climb, d) Respect it all the way with gratitude 

Love the game, give it all you have inside you, respect all and maybe we can climb a mountain that never dreamed we could.


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“There is always more than one way to climb a mountain.” But…

“There is always more than one way to climb a mountain.”  Though many of them with different outcomes. There is more than one way to grow and develop sound football/soccer players.  Yet the depth of high level training maintains consistency, while the surface may always change and adopt.  There are so many fantastic clubs and schools in the world that we can learn from and grow as players and coaches.  Its is great to learn from all with respect and gratitude.

Knowledge: Just like in other fields, in football/soccer with knowledge comes the thought of knowing how much we don’t know.  I find it amazing how many differences are in the (quality) schools of football that project different outcomes in terms of player development.  And yet, they all contribute a great deal to teaching and developing quality players.

Styles and Differences: Some schools play strong possession, some a more direct game, others a blend between the two. Regardless of what the tactical applications, styles of play or other preferences one chooses, the depth of the fundamentals combined with new ongoing evidence, will always be the key to player development.

The Depth of the Fundamentals:

Strong independent skills: Strong technical individual ball abilities particularly in 1v1, 1v2 and 1v+ attacking situations, dribbling for space, dribbling to beat defenders, ball manipulation, timing, dribble to finish and basic individual awareness will always give players enough level of play to see the game differently.  Its very important to create independent skills before players can learn how to play interdependent. In addition, motor planning development adopts well from early ages.

These are skills that contribute to developing creative high quality technical players. One way to grow these players would be to play unrestricted from any environment (including coaching) for creativity. However, its important that this follows with consistency, time and effort for true growth.  Practical interpretation: young players can benefit from many high intensity 1v1+ games, multi directional games, constant switches of play and more.

Strong Interdependent Skills: Ability to show strong quality passing, receiving, touch on ball, recognition of space and pressure, maintain balance on movement and runs.  Practical Interpretation: near support first, balanced runs and with purpose, balanced support, space and time relation, pressure and space relation.

Fundamental field decisions, such as: when to dribble for space versus to get behind a defender, when to dribble versus pass, when to go forward versus wide/back, when to switch the point of play, when and how to create numerical advantage, when to finish an action versus building from the back. All of these together continue to a rhythmic, entertaining and developmental game.  Practical Interpretation: problem solving constantly, find incorrect ways to find correct ones, pattern recognition and more.

Ongoing Evidence: This includes prescribing activities based on new and ongoing research. Some of these elements (evidence based) are: ability to make the right decision under pressure, visual orientation, reaction time, dribbling center of gravity, acceleration short distance, dribbling speed and quality, high quality players passing and speed accuracy and many, many, many more elements.

Ilir Lushaj

Madison Futsal

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Another Perspective at “Winning Versus Development”

I was recently reminded on this topic from a soccer parent, who always has some amazing feedback and words of wisdom in soccer.  It reminded me to finish a post that I had started a while ago.

Winning versus development?  There have been a lot of analyses of this topic, though without looking at underlying causes, and usually stopping short of possible solutions.

A)  Three important points for development:

  1. Development – Coaches Role: It will be equally important that when we look at winning versus development, we first define those terms.  I believe when all of us refer to development in soccer, we mean a possession football.  Possession football is something that is a premium in modern football, and in order for a team to play possession football, they must first show correct concepts, followed by correct technique, to eventually lead to tactical (decisions) awareness.  Without minimizing the fact that sometimes, its just fine and very correct to play a direct play, in general with possession football, I don’t mean to statistically possess the ball more, but to play true possession football (knowing safe play principles, building from the back, switching point, moving ball away from pressure and so on)

A possession game has all elements of development: rhythm, entertainment, concepts and building principles.  Like an orchestra everyone plays a part and the result is a beautiful piece.

A “ping pong” style game shows all elements of (false) winning: playing the fastest player on top all game long at U8, because they outrun and score goals, over playing flank (at older ages) and so on.  Like every victory that comes with very little effort, this does not last.

  1. Patience – Coaches, Parents, Players Role: Patience and time to develop a team, is something that all of us as coaches, parents and players need to train ourselves every day.  Being strategic and playing a fast player on top is fine and even smart, playing a fast player at U10 on top, for the entire game, is a clear sign of wanting to win at any cost and not allowing much team growth.  Unfortunately, like everything else, what is popular is not always correct.  As a side note, patience is something that is always challenging and the only way to succeed is to cultivate it daily.

3.  Development – Player Role: this is crucial and very important to include here. Development does happen when playing games, in practice and such.  However, practice and games are channels to help development not top development.  Top development happens in the dark, when no one is watching.  It happens in the park, basement and more.  It happens every day as a habit, which leads to excellence.  It is very important that we are also aware of the player’s role into development as well as coaches’ role into player growth. 

B)  Knowledge Versus Not? After establishing points 1 through 3 above, the real questions are:

1.  Team Trainer: If a team trainer knows the difference between a possession game and a ping pong game style, how to teach a possession game, and if they have (want) the the patience to wait ( or if a team trainer chooses a ping pong game by choice, based on outside pressure, personality to statistically win a game with all cost, simply due to difficulties teaching a possessing game, other)

2.  Patience: if coaches, parents, players will (want) to take the time for long term growth

3.  Player: if a player is matching aspirations/goals with time and effort one puts into training. 

C)   As a Review: Winning versus development is not the real problem: The real problem is the underlying cause, which in this case is: a) Possession football – coaches’ role, b) Patience and time for long term growth, c) Player role.

As a side note: Development leads to winning: I firmly believe that if one works hard and does a relatively good work toward developing a team, winning will follow, as a byproduct of training and developing. Sometimes this comes quicker and other times later, based on the many other factors that influence this equation and sometimes the other side has worked a little harder, so this cannot be every time.

Most players work very hard, and do great with some guidance, as parents we simply want the best for our kids, as coaches we all have a love and passion for the game.  So the issue of winning versus development needs to address underlying causes, be approached with less criticism, and more with a focus to offer long term solutions.

Ilir Lushaj

Madison Futsal Academy Director

Madison WI

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Analysis: The Cost of Unidirectional Coaching

The beautiful game is a game of rhythm, building, creativity, and connectivity.  It is an entertaining game, which is fun to watch by billions of people worldwide.

However, the element that continues to destroy all those creative bricks of the beautiful game, is the fact that this game from youth to MLS, is a very unidirectional one.  The cost of this unilateral game takes away true development, creativity, space recognition, player connectivity and entertainment.  Ultimately this allows this to be just a game, and no longer the beautiful game.

That is why youth coaching needs to have a strong focus toward multi-directional development.  This is even more true for ages 5-10, or the age of behavior pattern development, and needs to continue through ages 11-15 and 16-19.   It is crucial that coaching these young ages, is not a going through motions process, but a process of multi-directional thinking and activity, a process of space recognition and connectivity.  The weight of coaching needs to focus toward a diagonal vision, in a dance like field, where the rhythm of the game changes depending on the place of the field and timing of the process.

The best things and ways, continue to be simple.  Coaching a multi-directional game and a way of thinking can also be very simple, and youth players respond very well and never disappoint.  If the thousands of players we have are given this opportunity, we will surround our youth soccer with a very significant number of talent, which will lead to a true change and a true development of the beautiful game.

Ilir Lushaj

Madison Futsal Academy Director

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