Firstly, thanks to Michael @thecoachesbench for giving us all the opportunity to listen to Matthew Syed in person whilst attending the Newcastle United Academy. The link to the presentation is here. http://bit.ly/mpsJA6
I found it to be a fascinating listen and it was good to hear his book 'brought to life' as he described his views regarding learning in general, across other sports and in football.
The main point I would take from this for coaching would be around the Stanford University research that sampled two groups of students and the praising of one group for effort against the other group for 'talent'. After going through three rounds of testing (the second of which was offered as an easy/hard option choice to the two groups) there was a 40% increase in the attainment of the group that had been praised for effort.
I thought this was great information to provide to players and parents and the damage that the 'your talented' label can give to players versus the extreme improvements in achievement that can be attained through praise for effort. Not only this, but the motivation of the player goes up with the praise also.
There was also what I thought was a fantastic question from the audience about how an autistic savant (think Dustin Hoffman in Rain-man) can appear to have an innate talent for recall without practice (ie a counter argument to Matthew Syed's assumption that it takes years of quality specific practice). Matthew explained that an autistic savant uses the same part of the brain (although 'damaged' part) that a non autistic person needs to develop through practice to have the same level of memory recall.
Also, a young lad in the audience asked a great question along the lines of 'Has anyone who HAS put in the quality practice hours' not made it!
An Alternative View
Now this is strictly my own view. What I was not quite so sure about is the connection Matthew is trying to make with regards to the level and type of practice for football.
The examples he gave in the audio were quite enlightening:
Table Tennis which is his own sport where he had access to a fantastic coach and a 24/7 table tennis club. Golf - Tiger Woods and the fact that he had started at 2 years of age and put in years of practice. Tennis - the Williams sisters. Many tennis players in particular are well documented for starting early and having the 'pushy parent'. Chess, where years of practising strategy mean a grand master can recall many scenarios. Also I believe he mentioned how Mozart became a brilliant pianist and Picasso the painter. All of these people used the slow engraining of technical skill over a long time with the will and passion to continue to keep training.
Football, unlike any of the sports shown above and certainly unlike the non-sports mentioned above is not an unopposed technical process. It is actively competitive with constant pressure from opponents for time, space and possession of the ball. Even in an opposed sport such as table tennis or tennis you don't have somebody who is trying to take the ball from you or knock the racket/bat out of your hand whilst performing a shot. You certainly wouldn't have seen Mozart pushed off his piano when trying to play or Garry Kasparov grabbed around the torso whilst moving his knight to C6! Football, along with other 'invasion games' is uniquely different in terms of gaining that technical skill. Those that have read my blog before will know that I don't think this technical skill can be obtained in isolation from how the game is actually played.
Although some skills based coaching methods have 1v1, 2v2 and SSG's a large part of the work is still unopposed, repetitive technical skill based practice. It is believed that this repetition will over a period of time engrain the technical skill as described in Matthew's presentation. For me, football is more about learning the skill whilst opposed, with interference from other players. From the start to the end of a session there should be a theme that has various degrees of interference and opposition until the learning is progressed into the full game. One simple example I can think of is why encourage a defender to pass to an attacker before going into a 1v1 or 2v2? Would you want your defender to do this in a game? Is it realistic? Why not just start with the ball with the attacker(s)? Also when learning something like a turn, I believe this should be done under pressure and moving in a logical direction. Why have a drill that performs a 'zidane' turn only for the player to be moving back towards their own goal and without anyone in the way or trying to win the ball!
Skills based coaching 'methods' can offer benefits to footballers, particularly in the form of 'homework' or extra training for players but for me should be integrated with and not form the sole basis for learning. Coaches who are new to football can sometimes get caught up with new ideas or effective marketing by coaching companies. I personally think that as many options as possible should be considered and coaches should take the bits that work, those that they and more importantly the players enjoy and adapt these to form sessions that are 'game realistic' through ALL of the session.