Football is a microcosm of life. Two hugely powerful forces are prevalent in both, dancing and wrestling with each other for power and keeping them in balance is of utmost importance for coaches.
The first of these forces is Entropy. Chaos, calculated destruction. The breakdown of intelligence and structure into disorder. The counter-force is Intelligence which brings order, structure and life. The creation of structure out of chaos in defiance of entropy.
It seems as coaches we can be prone to thinking too much and feeling too little. The relationship between entropy and intelligence is a constant battle for power, each paradoxically enabling and nourishing the other. Similar to a mature relationship whose arguments and minor run-ins end up staving off stagnation and strengthening the overall bond.
The entire coaching profession presently exists in utter defiance of entropy, always seemingly searching for increased intelligence, a phenomenon which has accelerated rapidly due to the popularity of social media and global sharing. Order and structure is sought at all times, and is used as a marker of “good coaching” often resulting in ridiculously complex training arrangements and details fed to players who do not have the capacity to absorb them all let alone carry them out. This over-intelligence can actually unbalance the very forces that are required to flourish and succeed.
Intelligence must embrace entropy in order to fulfil itself. Without chaos and disorder, there can be no chance for life and order to eventuate.
Football matches by nature are a constant tug of war between entropy and intelligence. For all the tactical structure and order brought by intelligent coaching, there are inevitable moments where matches descend into chaos and random events determined by the position of the ball, individual thought or skill level. Without these chaotic moments of transition and tactical destruction, a team would not be able to display their attacking intelligence or their defensive structure, a game would be forever stuck in one half of the pitch. After a transitional moment, intelligence restores balance to the overall football match. The ratio of intelligent structure to chaotic entropy in each game varies as you travel up and down the different levels of football.
Moments of “organised disorder” have been present ever since the gruesome early days of football where hordes of people played by kicking a severed head through a town square. Players know the rules and framework of the game but organisation cannot always take place. In modern times a Sunday league game can sometimes be referred to as “a game of transition” because possession is almost constantly in dispute due to the reduced tactical and technical level of the players and coaches compared to a UEFA Champions League game, for example where there would be many more sustained periods of structured and orderly play.
Tipping the scale in favour of intelligence can create an unbalanced scenario in which too many details and instructions are provided by coaches, leaving less advanced players in utter confusion. “Paralysis by analysis” or “a deer in headlights” are phrases often used when a person is given too many options and doesn’t know which one to choose under pressure, often causing failure. While a more advanced player might be able to remember and carry out most of the instructions provided, but they may become mechanical and unable to solve problems and situations that arise which don’t have a specific, pre-determined solution attached to them.
Most players want to be up to date and informed but not bombarded with information and bogged down in structure. Many older players or experienced junior players are scarred by past over-instruction that reveals itself under pressure either as robotic actions, ability to play in only one position and inability to find new solutions to old problems. These rigid players are no longer capable of flow and change, which is necessary for order to occur.
Tactically, if a coach relies too heavily on order and structure their teams may become rigid and predictable. Freedom in fluidity and rotation, while sometimes chaotic, will eventually ensure balanced intelligence can occur. This creation and destruction of set positions can be known as “dynamic non-change.” In other words, change takes place within a stable framework.
For advancement and progression in youth development circles, we must allow the breakdown of some factors. As in gardening, to encourage vigorous growth and an attractive structure, trees must be pruned and old parts of the plant reduced or removed. Without that calculated destruction, life cannot strengthen.
Similarly, when training young players, in order for them to grow into more advanced, intelligent footballers, parts of their game must also be reduced or removed. We often talk of young players being “raw” which is just another way of saying they have the physical or mental capacity and potential to be great, but the scale is tipped in favour of entropy and their actions sometimes lack a certain level of intelligent skilful order. If we as coaches can “prune” and work on that player by removing bad habits and instilling better ones, we can balance the two forces and develop a player who has intelligence and order mixed with the ability to randomly destroy structure in equal amounts and can call upon both of those forces when required.
A good training program should also look for equilibrium between these two great powers. Training sessions which are overly structured can descend into unplanned and unwanted chaos when the number of players isn’t perfect or other unexpected events occur which is inevitable when entropy rebalances itself. An overly structured approach can also mean that the coach is solving the problems for the players, who are mindlessly carrying out instructions. Training is rigid and unrealistic.
One of the first questions asked to coaches on the excellent FFA courses during session planning is: ‘Does it look like football?’ On the other hand, sessions which have little structure and direction (sometimes seen with junior coaches who do not plan their sessions at all) do not allow for intelligent learning to take place. Like in a match, coaches must have a clear plan but understand and allow for significant portions of unstructured play for optimal learning and results to happen. Do not be afraid of your session looking disorganised or messy. These are often the moments when the greatest learning and development takes place. If a session appears too tidy and perfect, it is almost certainly too easy or not educational for the players.
“We don’t specifically test any technical skills – no one has to go dribbling through cones. We just let the kids play, with or without a goalkeeper, without a dead-ball line – just like it is in the streets. There is nothing to win and there are no trophies to hand out. Fun, emotion and desire are the only things that matter.”
Manager – FC Bayern Junior Team.
Entropy is actually on the same team as intelligence; perhaps they just play in different positions and possess unique qualities, both critical to success. Intelligence would be a member of your back four. Organised, structured and methodical, repelling the opposition’s destructive forces. Meanwhile Entropy would be your No.10. Not often as disciplined as the others but always looking to get on the ball to dismantle the opposition’s intelligent structure. A good No.10 displays many entropic qualities and the best ones are often random and unstructured – within a set framework of course.