Previously, we have written about the two main perspectives in football: the action perspective and the movement perspective. The starting point in football is always the action perspective. Football players primarily deal with the football situation by making football actions. They press, dribble, and get open.
In what is a football action?, we explained that a football action is more than just the action itself. In other words, there is more than meets the eye. Prior to executing their pass, players make a decision based off of their game understanding (game insight). Their pass is also influenced by communication with their teammates. A football action consists of three parts. The part we see is the execution. The parts we don’t see are the decision and the communication. Understanding and analyzing a football action requires consideration of all three parts. Together, these three parts form the CDE cycle. The cycle of communication, decision making, and execution.
As was just explained, a football action is more than just the execution. However, it would be very difficult to win a game or play at a high level without good execution. The quality of a players execution is often referred to as his technique.
Players execute decisions both with and without ball contact. Primarily, when people discuss technique, they are referring to actions WITH ball contact. Of course, the technique used during actions WITHOUT ball contact also deserves consideration.
In order to execute a football action, certain preconditions need to be met. For example, the player must be able to contract his muscles and move his limbs. If a player doesn’t meet these preconditions, then football cannot be played. As a result, every football action is executed with a number of actions and movements that can be described independently from the football context. These include basic actions, movements, muscle interactions, and muscle actions.
An example of how each of these preconditions contributes to the execution of a football action is provided below. Pressing is the football action, but, in order to press, the player must sprint. The player will sprint with certain movements, like a neutral pelvis or a flexed back. The player will make these movements in conjunction with certain muscle interactions, like the muscles around his trunk, and with certain muscle actions, like the action of his hamstring.
Together, each of these components plays a role in the players execution. In other words, they are part of his technique.
These elements can contribute towards the quality of an action, but the quality of a football action is influenced by the entire CDE cycle, not just the E. Nevertheless, the preconditions play a crucial part in the execution of a decision. They are part of the execution.
Unfortunately, technique is another casualty of the language barrier in football. Rather than being used with a precise and universal meaning, technique is used in hundreds of different contexts with variable definitions.
In the biomechanics textbooks, the word ‘technique’ is typically associated with ideal movements. Biomechanists use the Laws of Physics and knowledge from other disciplines to try and uncover the ideal displacement of body parts for each sporting action.
Knowledge from the biomechanics world is incredibly useful, but before we can understand how to use it in football, we need to define ‘technique’ more clearly. You see, the criteria for distinguishing good technique from bad technique depends on the situation and also on the sport. Depending on the sport, or the situation, technique can be viewed with two different perspectives: the form perspective and the result perspective.
To make these different perspectives clear, we will contrast a sport like Football with a sport like Gymnastics. Football is a result-oriented sport. Gymnastics is a form-oriented sport. Form-oriented sports are primarily concerned with how an action is executed. As an example, let’s say that a gymnast performs a roundoff action, but lands with a slight ‘stutter-step’. The fact that this athlete landed the roundoff is less relevant to the judges than how she landed. In gymnastics, the result of the action is less important than the process with which it is achieved.
In football, the opposite is true. Referee’s do not award extra points for a goal scored from a bicycle kick, or take points away because a player scored from a toe-poke. In football, the result of the action is more important than the process with which it is achieved.
As a result, technique is different in football than it is in gymnastics. In gymnastics, technique is a constant. In other words, the movements that a gymnast makes are more standardized. They are written in ink, so to speak. Alternatively, the movements a footballer makes are less standardized. They are written with a pencil. In football, what matters is IF the ball goes into the goal. Not how it goes into the goal.
Technique is a variable in football, not a constant. A player can execute the same passing action using different techniques. A player can pass with his toe, inner foot, outer foot, top of foot, his heel, and even with his hands (if he is a goalkeeper or taking a throw-in).
This is called the principle of functional variability. This principle states that the same action can be achieved in multiple different ways. And, this principle can be extended to more areas than just football. As an example, how many different ways have you opened a door in your life? You’ve used your right hand, left hand, and probably even your feet. Like when you need to open the door with both hands occupied. Similarly, in football, there is no “fixed” way to pass the ball. Therefore, the technique a player uses to execute his football action is dependent on the football context.
Of course, there is a limit to this principle. A player that consistently uses his toe to pass the ball might be successful in one, or two, football situations, but over time, it is best if he learns a better technique. Likewise, a player that sprints with poor trunk control could be an injury risk. In other words, there are times where we need to analyze technique using the form perspective.
The form view of technique is what most people think of when they hear the word technique. They think of how somebody does something.
A player that is pressing is also sprinting. We can look at the players sprinting technique from the results view or the form view. From the results perspective, we could ask ourselves: Was his sprinting speed appropriate for the situation? Did it solve the football situation? From the form perspective, we could ask ourselves: how did he sprint? Did he sprint with a flexed back? A rotated pelvis? Etc.
Sprinting, like most actions, is not immune from the principle of functional variability. A player can sprint with a variety of techniques. A player can sprint with a straight back, a curved back, straight arms, flexed arms, arms that move across the body, and arms that move in a straight line. Just like football actions, the same basic action can be executed with different movements. And, even a sport like sprinting doesn’t award the Gold Medal to the person that sprints most beautifully, but the person that crosses the finish line first. So, even a sport like sprinting is result-oriented.
However, there is a reason why the majority of sprinting coaches pay attention to how their players execute their sprinting actions. Good sprinting coaches know that there are objectively better and worse ways to sprint.
Clearly, there are limits to the principle of functional variability. In order to reach top performance, and sustain top performance over the course of a 10-year professional career, certain adjustments to how a player does something could be prudent.
In order to take the form view of technique, we need to adopt the movement perspective. The movement perspective is necessary in order to further describe how a player executes an action. In a way, the action perspective answers the question: what is a player doing? The movement perspective answers the question: how does a player do it?
By paying attention to the movements that a player makes during execution, we can identify his form (technique). When adopting the form view of technique, we are like Gymnastics judges. We are ignoring the outcome of the action and paying attention to the process. How is he moving?
This view is especially important when analyzing preconditions. For example, if we notice that a player performs a stop & go with poor trunk control, then we can say with some confidence that this player could benefit from improving his technique. Roughly speaking, the reconditioning and preconditioning processes benefit greatly from the form view of technique.
Better Form, Better Result?
Does better trunk control mean better pressing? Not necessarily. A player that learns to sprint with better trunk control will sprint more efficiently. But the only way to achieve better pressing is by teaching the player to press from the right position, at the right moment, in the correct direction, and with the appropriate speed. However, because sprinting and trunk control are part of a football action, they can contribute towards better pressing. They just can’t guarantee it.
A player that sprints with inefficient technique can still be very good at pressing. And, a player that sprints with perfect technique can still be bad at pressing. Basic actions and movements are only part of a football action. They can contribute towards a better ‘E’ in the CDE cycle. While a better ‘E’ increases the chances of a better football action, it cannot guarantee it.
In football, technique is results-oriented. Of primary importance is whether or not the action achieves a certain result. Does the shot go into the goal? Does the pass reach the intended teammate? Technique is dependent on the football context. As a result, technique must be a variable. Different techniques are required to make the same actions. Sometimes a pass will need to be made with the top of the foot and other times with the inside of the foot.
Of course, there is a limit to the variability of technique. The ‘toe-ball’ technique can only take you so far. As a result, technique can also be viewed from the movement perspective. This perspective provides a more form-oriented view of technique. The form view places greater importance on how an action is executed rather than what it accomplishes.
The form view of technique is particularly important for preconditioning. A player that performs a stop & go with poor trunk control could be an injury waiting to happen. As a result, improving his trunk control technique during a stop & go can be beneficial. These improvements go a long way in reducing a players chance of injury and also increase the chances of a more successful football technique. However, they don’t guarantee it. This is because successful football technique depends on how well it solves the football situation. For example, sprinting with the hips back may be inefficient, and thus, bad form, but if it successfully prevents the opponent from stealing the ball, then it is good technique – a good result.
The action perspective and movement perspective give us two views of technique: result and form. The result view of technique pays particular attention to the relationship between technique and the football situation. “Good” technique depends on solving the football situation adequately. The form view of technique pays attention to just the technique. It mostly ignores the football situation. This view of technique places greater emphasis on the movements involved in the execution. “Good” technique is measured against mechanical principles. In order to improve a players technique, both perspectives are necessary. The results view is helpful in improving a players football technique. In other words, it helps him develop different techniques based on different situations. The form view of technique is helpful in improving a players movement technique. In other words, it helps him develop the same technique based on different situations. The results view lends itself to football training and football conditioning. The form view lends itself to preconditioning.