Grow Your Brain with Futsal:
An Interview with Daniel Coyle
BERKELEY, Calif. – The number-one question for any coach is how to cultivate the best players possible without killing the love of the game. How do you design a practice that develops talent, simulates real game situations and gets everyone involved?
To find out, I asked Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, who argues that it is actually possible to "grow" talent. For those soccer coaches whose players were probably not kicking in the womb, this is excellent news.
For Coyle, futsal is the "perfectly designed game" to develop soccer talent. Many of us futsal aficionados could have told you that already, but in The Talent Code, Coyle presents both scientific and empirical research to confirm our enthusiasm for soccer's smaller sister. In this book he explores the idea of "deep practice" and the effect that constant repetition has on the neurological development of an athlete or artist.
Without getting too deep into the science side of the story, it turns out that through constant repetition, one can actually grow a kind of insulation called myelin around connections in the brain to make them fire faster.
When I suggested to Coyle that repetition in practice also develops muscle memory, he claimed that physically there's no such thing.
"Muscles are actually really dumb," he pointed out. "Muscles are like the wooden part of the puppet. The action is with the strings."
These "strings" are the connections in the brain, and the faster information travels through them, the better you perform. More of the right kind of practice means more myelin to transmit neurological signals even faster.
For a soccer coach, this is where futsal comes in. According to Coyle, there are many qualities of futsal that make it the perfect tool for deep practice — and developing that all-important myelin. Because it is played on a smaller scale, with fewer players and a ball that has 30 percent less bounce, it naturally provides players with "perfect feedback and lots of quality reps."
Although the fundamentals are the same, the significant differences between futsal and outdoor soccer make it the ideal setting for maximum learning with minimal coaching.
To illustrate this point, Coyle cited the example of board sports — skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding — because there is no coach to explain how to get it right. People learn these sports by repetition, by figuring out what works and what doesn't, so that "the sport teaches you what to do."
This makes the learning process much more meaningful, because every mistake becomes a teaching moment and every success builds "a poker hand of possibilities" to use in the future. Add to this the intensity and competition of futsal, and you have the perfect training tool for building a better soccer player.
For example, consider the depth of soccer talent and range of ball-handling creativity that comes out of Brazil. It's no coincidence that almost all Brazilian youth play futsal for years before they ever touch an outdoor ball. For one, there is less space required for a futsal court than for a soccer field, and organizing a game is "cheaper, faster and easier."
According to Coyle, it's "the perfect confluence of circumstance and culture" in Brazil that makes futsal the norm for young players, resulting in some of the best professionals in the world.
In the first chapter of his book, Coyle says, "Since the 1950s, Brazilian players have trained in a particular way, with a particular tool that improves ball-handling skill faster than anywhere else in the world."
That tool is, of course, futsal.
Although this sport is rapidly gaining popularity in its own right on an international scale, like all things soccer, it is slower to catch on in the United States, where coaches are used to sculpting players with drills and conditioning.
However, Coyle argues that "the sport sells itself." After investigating the Brazilian scene, he brought a few futsal balls back the United States and "just threw them into the high school pick up games. The kids loved it."
Because it's basically condensed play, which is the best kind of deep practice, anyone who enjoys soccer will be a lot more enthusiastic about playing futsal than running suicides down eternal lines of cones. Not to mention, futsal will grow your brain. Talk about the perfect sport!
For more information on futsal as "deep practice" and The Talent Code, see Daniel Coyle's website at: thetalentcode.com
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