Repetition for Success: Learned Behaviors

Brazilian star Ronaldinho doing one of his many juggling tricks.

When I was young and in my travel team days of soccer I remember having a coach that before every practice he would hold a juggling competition.  He would give five minutes and each individual would count their own juggles and see who could get the most consecutive juggles in a row.  Juggling a ball was one of my strengths and I looked forward to this competition every practice.  I would go home and practice and try to beat my previous high score.  To me, it was just fun competition but little did I know what my coach was implementing.  It has been known for years that there is a correlation between juggling skills and having a good touch.  Through repetition he was developing our touch without us even knowing it. 

Learning through repetition goes all the way back to the days of Aristotle.  Aristotle described the role of repetition by stating, “it is frequent repetition that produces a natural tendency” (Ross & Aristotle, 1906, 113).  This is especially true when it comes to coaching youth players.  The most rewarding thing you can get as a youth coach is teaching something in practice and having one of your players repeat what they learned in a game.  Even more so, is when the player recognizes what they just did and they say, “hey coach, did you see that!?!?”

One of the greatest coaches I’ve had, former Harrisburg Heat player Larry Julius, used to have us do these drills in a small box before every practice.  All we would do, for a good 10 minutes was dribble from one end to the other, and when we got to the other end we would have to pull whatever directional move skill he would teach us.  We would learn about five or six different turns.  Once we were learned the move, he would have us dribble in an open space and call out the turn we would have to do.  “V-turn, pull-back, cruyff.”  At the time, I was young and didn’t enjoy doing this every, single, practice.  But as I grew up I realized how important those training sessions were for my game.  I was able to pull the moves without even thinking about them, it became a naturally learned move.  I remember to this day specifically complaining to my coach asking, “why do we have to do this every practice?”  He put his hand on my shoulder an said,”son, some day you are going to pull a V and get away from a player and score a cracker of a goal.”  Sure enough, he was right!

So while your players might moan and groan about doing the same thing every practice, one day they will understand and appreciate what you have taught them as the movements will become learned behaviors.  To avoid those moans an groans, use the same moves/concepts but do different drills.  Start out in a small individual technical area, then still individually open it up to a larger defined space, finally in the end, have them use the moves/concepts in a scrimmage setting.  It is truly amazing how fast the brain can react to certain situations and your feet just do the movements without even thinking about it.  It’s almost like magic! 

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Tomo is your prototypical “soccer guy.” A four year starter at Shippensburg University, Tomo owned the defensive midfield with his awesome vision of the game and hard-nosed style of play. An avid Chelsea fan, he’s left scratching his head wondering what owner Roman Abramovich will rotate through Stamford Bridge. Tomo also blogs about Chelsea and the English Premier League on his site TomoTimes.

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