Many of you will wonder what the legendary Portuguese coach, the special one , and a physical trainer from Ferrara (Italy) have in common . Apparently these characters might even seem to be opposite in that their staff have been fighting for years to win sports titles. The  special one , head of a super competent staff (with Rui Faria, Vitor Morais and Silvingo Lauro) in front of Professor Capanna as physical trainer of the staff of Claudio Ranieri, always a rival to Mou.

What Jose Mourinho and Riccardo Capanna (ex of Juventus, Rome and Inter) have in common is their interest and  meticulous study on neuroscience.

These studies have led these two professionals to  conceive training in a totally new and innovative way  that is completely different from the traditional methodology dominated by the philosophical theory of “Cartesian dualism”, from 1600.

I want to invite readers to study this document drawn from works that these two characters, based on many neuroscientific studies, have carried out.

The objective is to deny many beliefs that superficially and totally wrongly have conditioned football training methods for years. Good reading!

Introduction: The alien Mourinho

The writer Sandro Modeo, in his book  “El extraterrestre Mourinho”,  shows how the  special one has really applied to football the studies carried out on neuroscience by Antonio Damiaso and other authors. Jose Mourinho reaches neuroscience with a simple item, critically reinterprets all the texts studied during the motor and sports science course, conceiving the athlete as a “biopsychic unit”. That is, it rejects the separation between physiology and the mental dimension.  Emotions and decisions in the brain are absolutely associated and interdependent components . Decision-making processes are based on affective-emotional options.

All this leads to the fundamental consideration of man as a functional unit, where there is no separation between mind and body, training the technical-tactical-psycho-physical components simultaneously.

How is it possible to apply these studies in football?

Fútbol y neurociencia

The general premise is that coaches have to be simulations of the game. Everything has to be organized respecting the organic-kinetic-mental stimuli that are found inside a party. Physical preparations, workloads, gym sessions, physical tests, calculation of VO2max are avoided. On the contrary, tasks with situational motor-mechanical and perceptual-kinetic situations will be proposed, such as racing sequences, jumps, changes of direction, all with the ball in order to reproduce match situations in which the player will be obliged to use notably The intensity.

Also from a tactical point of view,  Mourinho believes that it is necessary to start from the consideration of the neural athlete, seen as a whole .

The Portuguese insists much on the hierarchical introjection of the game principles (for example, opening during possession and joining without possession, where and when to press, how to make transitions) rather than the mechanical repetition of the schemes. This ensures versatility in decisions, with the player naturally learning the ability to adapt during a match. Tasks, in fact, are never the same, and time and space are often altered to ensure adaptation. Guided discovery and freedom of exploration are cardinal in this method.

The Portuguese does not teach automatisms, but introduces the possibility of interpreting “here and now” certain solutions acquired during training, obviously separating the habit from the routine. Another fundamental principle in neurobiological economics is the saving of nervous and physical energies.

The typical session is structured:

  • With Tuesday of active recovery.
  • On Wednesday and Thursday of central work (that is, of application of what we have said previously with very high attention and concentration).
  • On Friday and Saturday the training sessions are lighter from the point of view of the motor execution of the stimuli, the decision-making processes.

Starting from the important assumption that in each individual action a player uses 2/3 of the time for awareness, and 1/3 for the decision.

With this method, on Wednesday-Thursday they train 2/3 while on Friday-Saturday the decisive 1/3.

Also  from the emotional point of view, Mourinho has a method . It all starts with manipulating emotions. The principles are:

  • Reciprocity: Classic rule of the exchange.
  • Effort-coherence.
  • Sympathy / flattery.

The player as a functional unit

The philosophical principle of the 1600 Cartesian is to say “‘the mind-body dualism” is still today a principle on which many studies are based.

Man has to be understood as a psychophysical unit. It is the fundamental presupposition. It was Pavlov and Zimkin, at the beginning of the 1900s, who spread the concept of the search for the “state of form” in sport. They argued that, to increase athletes’ performance, training must be articulated with technical-tactical exercises and physical exercises, in separate compartments. In particular, the latter included large physical expenditure interspersed with breaks for energy recovery. Through obsessive and mnemonic repetition the results are obtained.

The “future” is prepared by 3 scholars:

  • Bernsteijn  maintains that there is no direct functional relationship between brain impulses and motor effects, which depend on differentiated and connected structures in parallel.
  • Rizzolatti  makes a great discovery: the existence of mirror neurons. Thanks to them and their training, the players can read the situations, always positioning themselves in the right place at the right time. The assumption from which they start is that the player learns from the mistakes and the correct interpretation of it.
  • Noè  defends the theory of externalism, that is, that movement depends on something external, on the environment.

These studies demonstrate a principle known today, but few actually applied: it  is necessary to propose integrated exercises, not different . The technical-tactical-psycho-physical components have to be integrated into a task, and the trainer will choose in this way the integration of the stimuli and not their assembly.

With PFSIe we understand  special physical preparation , that is, a preparation that includes the integrated training of the technical-tactical-psycho-physical components.

In this preparation, the phenomena that move brain functions such as information taking, attention, concentration, analysis and decision assume significant importance. All the elements that improve performance. With traditional methods almost none takes into consideration the principle of the player as “unity”. The bases of many current methods include separate and non-integrated training, in such a way that it is not possible to overcome “Cartesian dualism” (body and mind separated).

It is necessary to underline that, at present, training strength or resistance without a studied technical-tactical gestures means being outdated. This because the principles of neurophysiology are not deepened. Neurophysiology defends that a training has to have an operative phase that includes specifications (understood as movements that have the same objective, not as movements that the athlete performs during the match) and repetition (variable repetition). Also the concept of transfer has to be revised. It was considered the “‘base” in which to later add workouts with higher loads above those mentioned, eliminating the subdivision into periods.

Furthermore, there is no talk of “motor anticipation” but rather of interpretation of environmental factors that lead to a certain technical-tactical-physical gestures.

From a neurophysiological point of view,  every time something happens in the environment around us, the brain acts like this:

  1. The motor brain is informed after 50ms.
  2. The unconscious motor response is verified in 150ms.
  3. The player is aware after 350ms.
  4. The player is able to reason after 650ms.

We believe that we think and act at the same time, but this is not the case. It is the brain that acts in a way that seems to us in this way. The coach’s job is to reduce the 150ms of unconscious learning only through different experiences that the player experiences during exercise.

Muscles at the service of the brain

We have underlined how  the traditional method does not contemplate the concept of athlete as a unit . Since it does not give life to a motor learning process and yes to training through repetition and the consequent automation of motor gestures, without obviously the plasticity required by the game (that is, the ability to successfully modify the gesture in relation to the environment). The traditional method includes a fractionation and a progression that goes from the simple to the complex. The so-called magistrocentric theory.

My belief is that  the concept of athlete as a unit underlies all considerations . Physical abilities and tactics are trained in global exercises following the principle of specialization (by position, for example). Based on these considerations, the PFSIe is fundamental. In the organization of PFSIe, you can find coordination problems (as long as the continuous stimulation of the trainer is necessary until the motor execution of the gestures is correct) and muscle problems (immediate response).

Most of the technicians  in their traditional conception conceive the body of an athlete as a machine  and their physiological compartments must always be filled. This happens in a horrible way, especially during the pre-season stages in which the players are aerobically, lactately and lactately “filler”. This in order to guarantee a “physical form” for a certain period, and then recharge it when the tone is lowered a bit. Totally wrong! The pre-season stage is to be understood as a period that prepares players to endure only the amount and density of the technical-tactical-psycho-physical stimuli that will be submitted during the season.

Neuroscience studies take us to a new reality.

It is necessary to take into account biological phenomena by imposing the rule of the specific response to environmental stimuli: general adaptation syndrome.

The “training load” is nothing more than a stimulus that must have:

  • Quality : represents the shape of the gesture and the most important parameter. The correct gestures referring to the technical-tactical-physical objective is essential and the coach during the session has direct control.
  • Intensity : represents the way in which the gesture is performed. That is, how it is done. It is directly connected to the quality of the stimulus.
  • Quantity : represents how many times and for how long a stimulus is proposed to request a specific adaptation response.
  • Density : It is the relationship between breaks and repetition.

We can add each activity to a global learning-training project depending on our main objectives which could be:

  • Development of technical-tactical capacity:  structuring variable exercises in which the player, faced with two or more solutions, is forced to choose and think.
  • Development of acceleration capacity : structure always situational and never analytical exercises in which the explosive force, the capacity for speed and frequency of the step are requested.
  • Development of recovery capacity : to improve recovery capacity, it is necessary to structure exercises that do not allow players to recover fully during the series and / or repetition, but rather determine critical conditions due to growing fatigue.

If we talk about joint mobility personally I have decided to remove any form of stretching by performing dynamic flexibility methods and “core training”.

Learn to teach

We have emphasized that man has to consider himself a bio-psycho-social unit and that training has to be a global process to simultaneously satisfy all the technical-tactical-psycho-physical demands present in the game of soccer. In the traditional method many things are based on the intensity and the amount of the stimulus. I believe that what really counts is the ability to keep the correct execution of the gesture constant, that is, the quality, and how many times this correct gesture is performed, that is, the intensity. Only after considering the quality-intensity binomial will quantity-density be considered. All this through intermittent work that can and must be applied in technical exercises.

The coach will have to intervene directly in the execution of the gestures, transmitting specific ideas and his opinion.

You will always have to be positive and purposeful, explain orally and clearly / specify what to do to improve the execution of a motor / tactical action. See how they do it, correct them and see how they do it again. You have to work the “timing”, that is, when and at what moment a technical-tactical-physical gesture is performed. It has to do with being at the right time in the right place and perceiving, analyzing and deciding in the right way.

It is hard but not impossible

As we have underlined, the philosophical idea of ​​Cartesian dualism has caused them to separate what is actually perfectly unitary. Cartesio affirmed that the learning process is assimilated by progressively filling a compartment that opens when an event takes place. From the neurophysiological point of view, the state of form is understood as the result achieved by the brain organization. For this reason it is necessary that all the exercises have to precede the following of a specific (objective) and repetitive (plastic) gestures. The new training theory argues that the assumption of the operational specification is aimed at modifying motor behavior.

Motor learning is then characterized by a change in behavior that the coach has to encourage.


El fútbol y la mente

Functional training

Motor coordination occupies a relevant part of what we understand by “quality” of movement and is the basis of the integrated training method that we want to propose.

The classic traditional conception defends that a movement is coordinated when the content of the central impulse that sends the efferent impulses towards the periphery, performs identical movements of the pair of such central impulse, the cortical one. The new conception of coordination defends that it is not enough for the brain to send an impulse to ensure that our body moves, but it is necessary, in addition to the efferent system where the last motor-neuron is too influential, a series of auxiliary systems that make this impulse be controlled and consistent. The result of this controllability is included in the environment surrounding the action.

Motor coordination depends on the precision of a certain  peripheral preparatory process that organizes and prepares the last motor neuron so that the central impulse happens at the right time, that is, when the highest nerve conductivity is present. This will allow the athlete to face the so-called “degrees of joint freedom”, which at the beginning of learning are rigid because the organism is not yet “free” and autonomously reduces the movements it has to control.

It is important to establish the concept of  degrees of freedom . At the beginning of the movement, the nervous system tends to fix a large part of the joints, contracting contemporaneously agonists and antagonists, thus excluding all degrees of freedom except for those minimum and indispensable ones. Thus the movement is stiff and awkward.

  • Initially, the technician will have to propose exercises that have a reduced number of joints used: 1) exercises with joint block 2) functional technical exercises with a specific objective.
  • The next level includes the “unlocking” of the degrees of freedom previously blocked with the athlete who can use the impulses he applies at the right time giving the desired response. Pre-situational exercises are adopted in this way, that is, specific practice exercises but which include the knowledge, by the players, of the motor sequences that they will perform during the exercise
  • The last level is the completion of degrees of freedom. The sns manages to give the movement a quality that the reactive forces do not hinder and support it. Situational exercises will obviously be adopted.

Consequently, it seems obvious that the methodology to be used has to be of a non-prescriptive type, that is, a methodology that takes into account that learning is really acquired and stabilized and obviously taking into account the principles of plasticity and variability.

Summary of the rules necessary to train “today”

Most technicians and trainers today argue that the human body is an “assembled” structure. Assembled in the sense of the format of the parts that together make it up and that trained separately can lead to the overall improvement of the characteristics and the improvement of the performance. Sensory and motor phenomena were thought to depend on associated distinct distinct cortical areas. All the studies carried out by the neuroscientists in the last 10 years, interpreted critically, allow themselves to ask this important question:  If the brain is capable of perceiving environmental stimuli and of reproducing movements, how can a mind exist separate from this same brain that send you messages and respond to your orders? Thus, a decisive concept for sport is considered: man as a structure not “assembled” but rather “integrated” in which all its parts are independent. The man is considered a unit, the athlete as a “neural athlete”.

In this sense, one of the most decisive and revolutionary discoveries has been made by Rizzolatti, regarding the extraordinary capacity of some neurons,  mirror neurons.. The study of these neurons is still under development today and in the coming years we will surely see considerable news. As far as we know today, mirror neurons are specialists in receiving sensory information, and in immediately formalizing the recognition and characteristics of movement that must be performed in a circumstance. Another ability of mirror neurons is that they fire, either when an action is performed or when it is observed. In this way we understand what others are doing. This makes us intuit that man learns by imitation. Mirror neurons structure the finished movement, encode the temporal organization of movements and the exploration time of contractions without resorting to any reasoning.

How is this possible?

It is possible because from birth the brain builds a “motor vocabulary” of simple acts that the brain is then automatically able to evoke finished actions. And it is by these movements that an individual integrates with the environment that is around him and with his like.

August 4, 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *