“Work on the fundamentals.”
You will hear this from coaches everywhere. What is implied is that the fundamentals are a collection of technical skills required to play a sport. The three-foot putt. The free throw. The slap shot. The pass.
In football it implies the technical components of passing, receiving, shooting, dribbling, and heading. That’s about it. Learn these five elements of the game and all will be well. These fundamentals are the “common core” of training curriculums from coast to coast. This is the common core of personal trainers, camps, clinics, apps and videos. Upon these fundamentals we build training sessions with a mind-boggling amount of mind-numbing drills.
The issue is that the “fundamentals” are so ingrained in our coaching culture that nobody ever stops to question them. The very word fundamental has become synonymous with technical reductions of the game.
But as usual I wanted to examine a bit deeper.
Fundamental (as a noun): a basic principle, rule, law, or the like, that serves as the groundwork of a system; essential part.
Now that seems a bit different than what coaches worldwide have conditioned us to believe is the definition of the word. Yes, we can see an “essential part” of being able to play the game is technical execution. Nobody will argue the importance of making the ball your friend. All of us should preach the importance of technical precision in executing our desired solutions.
Having said that it seems a bit ludicrous to suggest that the fundamentals of a complex system we call the game of football are merely technical skills.
And yet we continue to perpetuate skills as such.
“The age of reductionism as a sense-making mechanism is over.” - E. Kipli
So why would our capacity to process complex information in real time against an ever-changing variable we call an opponent not also be a fundamental? I would suggest that this is quite fundamental to being able to play the game, no?
There is no football without decision-making.
Skills without decisions are for YouTube videos and street acts. Amazing videos, yes. Remarkable performers to entertain us, yes. But football, no.
We can no more divorce decision-making from football than we can our hearts from our heads and expect to thrive.
This is an adventure beyond semantics. The way we use our words is the way we define ourselves and define our craft. Once we label, we build and build until today’s definition of the fundamentals is considerably inadequate.
So we must question our models, deconstruct our foundation, and begin anew.
“Fundamentals” must be redefined.
“Behind every kick of a ball there has to be a thought.” – Dennis Bergkamp
When we define football fundamentals as our capacity to perceive, conceive, decide, deceive, execute and assess we lay the framework for the power of technical precision. We see now that technical execution is a mere fraction of the fundamentals. We view cognitive processing as vital to our prowess. We will play smarter and begin to respond to the real demands the game presents.
We have diminished ourselves. We have diminished the game. We have deprived our players of an expansive and inclusive training program. If we are to play the game effectively we can no longer reduce the game into disparate parts. We know too much today to let yesterday’s definition limit us.
I can turn a wrench without having a clue as to how to fix a car.
I can do math without knowing what a cotangent might be.
I can say “thank you” in a tone without a hint of gratitude.
I can perpetuate the farce of fundamentals without nurturing total footballers.
If we are to master a game, we must master the challenges before us. We must scan. We must find solutions. We must make a decision. We must execute that decision. We must assess the efficacy of our action and react accordingly.
Let’s pass, receive dribble, head, and shoot.
But all the while, let’s think.
This is football. This is the beautiful game.
Follow Todd Beane on Twitter: @_ToddBeane