Are we paying attention to what matters, or are we paying attention to what we can measure?

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The 3rd guest discussion on our Learning in Development podcast was a real challenging one as it involved guests with a broad range of experiences, from a broad range of disciplines. We used the Menotti quote, “Those who only know about football, don’t know about football” that featured in a previous discussion with Jordi and Isaac from FC Barcelona (see here), as our point of departure.

Tony Strudwick: Welsh national football team coach, Head of performance at Sheffield Wednesday, former head of development at Manchester United

Martyn Rothwell: PhD researcher and lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University with a focus on performance analysis, skill acquisition and talent development. Background in rugby league as a coach educator and player developer.

Dennis Hörtin: Head of education and Research and Development at AIK youth football

You can listen to the discussion here:



While the aim of this series of podcasts is not to present the ‘silver bullet’ answers, it is hoped that after listening we will all leave these discussions with better questions (I know that I certainly have).



There is a lot to be said for looking at the micro questions through the lens of macro aspects

We must recognise complexity of the holistic environment that supports the young player to understand what learning in development actually is and what it can look like

A wider picture of society and people are extremely valuable. Look at the wider aspects- For example the social media world for kids today is one of instant gratification. This also influences parents. So, what is understood as good practice at a club both on and off the pitch and what it should look like, can be influenced by this.

Question to reflect on: If we accept that the modern skill set for a modern coach has changed (due to changes in the game and society), what are the requirements for coaches to deliver these holistic programmes that we feel are necessary?

Form of Life

Form of life describes everyday practices, customs, beliefs of a group of people (Wittgenstein, 1953)

How does form of life influence athletes, coaches etc? For example, the cultural context invites many of the coaches behaviours that we see today

Much of the research has mainly focused on the individual characteristics of the athlete (organismic asymmetry) and not necessarily the environment. This has been problematic.

 We need to be aware of the phenomena are we trying to understand? Does it operate under principles of complexity or principles of more mechanistic, linear domains and practices?

There has been a dominant mechanistic, linear approach, a recipe approach to coaching, coach education and player development. For example, this idea of an optimal movement template, the right way to perform a technique is a good example. (see path dependency).

This highlights how the wider socio-cultural influences player and coach development.

These culturally resilient beliefs filter down to shape parental beliefs, what coaching and practice should look like and what talent development looks like down to the daily, weekly and monthly training cycles and how they should look. (For further reading- The present is not a clean slate).

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There is no valid model of a human system but the system itself

Don’t look for a template, blueprint or curriculum to adopt straight in to your club or governing body. Focus your attention on what is actually going on, pay attention to the environment, the players, their parents, the wider aspects and then make informed decisions

Fixed template coaching has been central to coach education and player development. These generic linear pathways, in the current landscape, need to be re-addressed.

Step based and stage based curriculms that are common in clubs and governing bodies are limiting. They are driven by our desire for certainty and they are not necessarily sensitive to  the nonlinearity of human development. They draw our attention away from individuals and their interactions.

Anything (i.e., a plan, a curriculum) that distracts our attention from paying attention to the interactions of individuals and understanding that wider context inhibits us, and isn’t helping us.

Are we paying attention to what matters or are we paying attention to the data, what we are measuring or the plan or curriculum?

The world is its own best model


Drowning by numbers?

Is the desire to measure, underpinned by quantitative analysis, taking us away from being ‘present’?

There is no value placing a GPS monitor on a 12-year old

Data is great, it should guide us but should not be the driving principles behind youth player development and even at the top professional level.

The Illusion of professionalism in youth football through the collection ‘adult type’ performance measures. This takes us away from being present.



By looking at the micro level and the words that are used, you can enable cultural change by encouraging a small-changes in language. Culture catches up with language.  Micro changes in language can actually shape conversations and assumptions and potentially can help cultural change. Are you producing players or fostering young people that play football?


Academia and applied practice

There is a need for more applied ‘real world’ research. This is a real challenge for academia and applied practice

The work that goes on in academia doesn’t always fit the narrative of what clubs are looking for. Those ideas that have almost been propagated and stayed within coach development and coach education have been the pop-science ideas like, 10,000 hours and learning styles. They survived due to the lack of opportunities for them to be academically scrutinised.

Someone employed in a club as part of a research and development department can help tie the ideas of academia and practice where experiential knowledge of coaches is integrated with theory and empirical data.

For our paper on embedding a Department of Methodology (research and development) in a sports club see here

RIP Dave Bacuzzi

One thought on “Are we paying attention to what matters, or are we paying attention to what we can measure?

  1. Good coaches coach players
    Great coaches coach people
    Players don’t care what u know until they know u care
    Coaching is an art not a science it’s the personal qualities of the coach in developing the holistic skills of players as well as skills

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