Defending is football too.

In this information age, a football player that wants to improve gets on YouTube and watches clips showing what she/he can practice. It’s usually fancy tricks with the ball.

The podcast about laws of the game: worry for football in Uganda.

Sometimes, the player will capture a video of themselves practicing to show off what they can do with the ball but that’s not competitive football, perhaps freestyle football.

Football has two main principles; defending and attacking.

These principles show that; if a player/team has possession of the ball then they are attacking, if the player/team doesn’t have the ball then they are defending.

That statement shows that if you don’t have the ball then you defend to avoid conceding a goal.

It also shows that if you defend well then you can get the ball and attack.

People will tell you how they played or watched a football match but apparently, the team that had the most possession is the one that played but defending is football too. The team without or less possession is playing too.

The recently concluded 2018-19 English Premier League (EPL) season showed that defenders or defending can be recognized.

A good defending performance can be as good as an attacking performance.

Virgil Van Dijk was named Player’s Player of the season after fellow players voted him.

He’s not the first defender to win that award but it’s good to see a shift in mindset to show that defending is football too.

Manchester City won the league title with a consistently 9/10 performance from Benardo Silva.

The attacking midfielder from Portugal is known for dribbling but had one of the most successful tackles and ball recoveries throughout the season.

He also recorded the longest distance covered, a staggering 13.9 km in a match against Liverpool.

A clear indication that his defensive abilities are very good something that helped him compete for a position ahead of more established players in the Man City squad.

BACK TO UGANDA
It’s good to see that in the recently concluded 2018-19 Uganda Premier League (UPL), goalkeepers and defenders were able to take home the man of the match award even better, Mike Mutebi the head coach of UPL champions KCCA FC says that Timothy Awany was the club’s best player during the 2018-19 season.

Football coaches in Uganda have a habit of separating football. They restrict defensive players to practice only defensive work, attacking players to practice only attacking work. This habit has reached, underage football, players as young as 10 years old have already been classified as either defenders or attackers.

Coaches have made players believe that as a defender you shouldn’t have any business using the ball, attacking players have been made to believe they have no business working to defend.

With this upbringing, Uganda is now filled with the majority of players not having the ability to function on the field when the demand is to defend and attack. Most of the players can only do one football function.

Perhaps it also explains why most goalkeepers are still struggling with being comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Worryingly though it explains why in Ugandan football when a team is defending, the pitch will be usually split into one part of the team defending while the other part of the team waits for the ball (seems like we are stuck in the past).

Players that are very good at attacking the aerial ball with the head will rarely fall back to defend set-pieces.

Defenders that are good at defending aerial balls with the head will rarely be a threat when attacking set-pieces.

MODERN FOOTBALL TRENDS
The current trend in football is that every player on the pitch should be useful when their team is either attacking or defending.

Wide defenders have many assists after arriving in the attacking third of the pitch while many wide attackers will be in the defensive third when out of possession.

Lionel Messi is a wonderful tackler, Christiano Ronaldo has many defensive headed clearances from set-pieces and of course, Vincent Kompany came up with a wonderful goal, shooting from distance to keep Man City in control of the EPL title hunt.

The best two goals at the 2018 FIFA world cup came from two central defenders (Pavard and Nacho) playing as wide defenders.

This ability in those players shows they were taught all football skills at a young age something that needs to be done by football coaches in Uganda or else the margin to professional football will keep getting bigger.

For all young players that intend to impress as footballers, defending is football too.

Learning how to do both defending and attacking is one of the things football scouts observe in a player.

Disclaimer: The writer has nothing against freestyle football.

The 10,000 hours’ myth in football practice.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outlier: The story of success, he states that, “it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.” Gladwell’s statement is based on research done by Professor Anders Ericsson.

In Uganda, coaches and players have practised this theory but struggle to perform with consistency at a high level.

The 10,000 hours’ practice research was performed on a violinist but, playing a violin and football are very different activities.

Football is a multi-directional sport that requires a lot more than executing football skills to perform very well.

During a football match, football skills are executed under physical, tactical, and mental challenges concerning; the ball, the space, the teammate, the opponent, the state of play, and the area of the pitch.

These challenges differ according to the quality of opponents and teammates.

Quality opponents limit time while quality teammates demand urgency and accuracy.

For example; travelling with the ball is; dribbling and/or running with the ball.

Dribbling is moving with the ball while keeping it close to the foot and is usually applied after determining that a player needs to create space to move the ball, requires support or protect the ball from the opponent, however, this has to be in the area of the pitch that limits the risk of losing possession and the state of play.

“Practice makes permanent but proper practice makes perfect.”

10,000 hours of practising football skills will not count if the practice isn’t executed properly, not deliberate, and lacks the quality to be football-specific.

Football skills are poorly practiced in isolation without considering the physical, tactical, and mental demands that affect their application.

Practicing dribbling through markers might lead to players struggling to travel with the ball because, during a football match, travelling with the ball will require;

1. Physical demands like agility involve the flexibility of the ankle joint, footwork speed, balance, acceleration, deceleration, and body feints.

2. Tactical demands like deciding when to dribble or run with the ball.

3. Mental demands like the confidence to be aggressive with executing the skill and to avoid arrogance when the skill is executed properly.

The proper football-specific practice to perfect travelling with the ball should include the tactical, physical, and mental demands then progressing the practice to increase the challenge.

Ask the following questions;

What is the current ability of the player?

How can we measure progress?

How do we know that a skill has been mastered?

Do we challenge space and time during practice?

Does the practice place players in unfavourable conditions?

Having to use the weak foot?

There are creative ways that make football practice to have challenges that would enable players to master football skills that serve the purpose of football.

Depending on the stage of football development, it’s important to design deliberate football-specific practice sessions that challenge the player’s comfort zone and to emphasize competing against themselves.

That’s when it will be possible to realize the benefits of the 10,000 hours to perfection in football.

The four stages of skill acquisition.

A skill is a learned ability. Its something you need to execute a task.

Learning any skill is easy but mastering a skill takes time, commitment and discipline.

Mastering a skill is what sets you apart from ordinary people.

It’s important for footballers to master football skills until they can be performed with quality and spontaneously.

It’s believed that it takes 10,000 hours of DELIBERATE practice before the age of 20 to master a skill, during that time, you the will have to go through the following stages;

Unskilled, Unconscious; In this stage of skill acquisition, you have no idea about the skill and how its executed.

It’s safe to say that you are ignorant about it. If you do it then chances are that it’s done by mistake and can’t be sustained.

Before teaching players the steps of how to pass the ball, most of them will play football and perform the skill.

The passing is poor quality and players are unconscious of the right steps required to execute a proper pass.

Unskilled, Conscious; This’ the second stage of skill acquisition.

Now we assume players have been taught how to pass the ball.

Players will have classroom lessons and gain consciousness of the steps required to pass the ball like; making eye contact with the recipient, non-kicking foot standing beside the ball, pointing where you intend to pass, following through with the foot that strikes the ball and the other steps required when passing the ball.

In this stage of skill acquisition, you will know what is required to perform a skill but won’t be skilled to pull it off because you haven’t yet practiced enough.

In some cases, the skill is performed but under little or no pressure at all.

Expect a lot of mistakes in this stage

Skilled, Conscious; This’ the third stage of skill acquisition. In this stage you know how to execute the skill, you know what it takes to pull it off and that is what mainly preoccupies your mind.

During practice, you get static every time you miss a step or whenever you make a mistake you instantly recognize why/how you made the mistake.

You are conscious. The brain knows what you need to do but the body/muscles are yet to synchronize with messages from the brain.

This stage of skill acquisition requires a lot of positive feedback from coaches and peers.

Skilled, Unconscious; This’ the last stage of skill acquisition. In this stage, you can execute a skill like passing the ball, you do it so well to a point that you don’t have to think (unconscious) about the steps required.

At this stage every step in skill execution is spontaneous.

Eye contact before passing the ball is now shorter, the non-kicking foot easily gets besides the ball in the required distance, the non-kicking foot points very well while passing the ball.

At this stage, mistakes are treated as a one-off but with disappointment in yourself.

Most footballers don’t get to the last stage of skill acquisition mainly because of poor coaching standards.

Young footballers should be taught skills in a no-pressure environment to give a high chance of success.

Pressure can always be increased when a player has achieved a certain level of success.