Chess Not Checkers

1. Mentalism-Everything begins with thought, thoughts and emotions drive action which shape reality


    A player must understand that the game first starts with and moves because of THOUGHT. Football is a thinking game, much like chess, there are many moving parts (22 players and freedom of movement over a large space) therefore to be a good player is to be an intelligent player.


I believe the time has come to let you in on the driving principles and concepts that the Footwork Labs methodology encompasses. There are 8 principles and the first is the concept of Mentalism which states that thought is at the core of every action we undertake. Some tasks take more thinking than others but we don’t make a move without a thought. 


I believe its plain to see how mental the game of Football is. Football( soccer) unlike almost every American sport takes a certain amount of awareness, mental bandwidth or processing power. In most American sports, there are signals or calls that correspond to a certain play or movement to be executed. This is also ingrained into our collective mentality as a culture. It is a generality, but as a culture we do not value free thinkers. America was formed by industrialists, people who designed factory systems, systems in which you did not have to think. You could accomplish a trivial task a million times a day in exchange for rewards which were wages with which to live. In Football, the concept of reward for mindless execution of trivial tasks doesn’t exist. Football is an unforgiving sport, which is why its also so rewarding when played well. Football is an incessant game of choice. Every step you take on the field changes the picture or tactical context of the game. We must be certain of our goal or target, but flexible about our means. Simply put, the game is won by scoring goals, this is the collective thought of the team, but how the ball arrives in the back of the net, who puts it there, and when it arrives there are open ended questions who’s answers must be arrived upon by pure lucid interpretation of the context and flow of the game. 


Make no mistake, this game is the most complex of games. Complex meaning consisting of many different and connected parts. 11 players per team means 22 players on the field. The field itself is a large space and the freedom of movement means that each player must think for themselves and for the whole of the team at the same time. Football is Chess, not checkers. This is not a mentally lazy person’s game. In order to play this game well, one must play this game first with the mind. Once the game is understood mentally then and only then can the feet begin to move with purpose. The game is a mental one expressed by the feet. 


If you are looking to become a player that can make an impact, then seek to understand the thought process of the game. If you can look at both the individual decision making and the grander thought of the collective team then you will begin to understand how this game moves. The individual’s thought process ultimately should be inline with the collective thought of the team. As we said before the main driving thought of the collective team is “score a goal”. Therefore the individual’s decision making should be driven by this same thought. However we know that one player can’t do it all on his own. How then does the team arrive at the realization of its goal? The answer is thoughtful/ Intelligent use of the ball. 


We can all agree that the ball is or has magnetic properties. Where ever the ball goes on the field, players’ eyes and bodies follow. Look at any Under 6 game and what do you hear from the sidelines? “Spread out!” This is because young players all want to have the ball and so they try to get close to it. The same is said of any player at any level of the game. Ask a professional how much they enjoy their time off the ball.  When a team looses the ball, they then switch to a mode of play to get the ball back.  Everyone wants the ball.  If this is the case then when in possession of the ball the individual must be intelligent about where they move the ball, as this will also move the opposition. When defending, teams attempt to remain as compact as possible in order to stifle attempts on goal. The objective when in possession must be then, to stretch the defending teams shape. If imbalances in defensive shape can be exploited properly then chances to score will become possible. In the words of Pep Guardiola- We don't pass to move the ball, we pass to move the opposition. Here's an excellent article to give you a little insight into one of the top manager's in the world's philosophy on the cerebral nature of the game. 


A prime example of an intelligent player Is Zinedine Zidane.


He is easily the most intelligent player of his generation. He was not fast, or exceptionally strong, but he was technically sound and extremely  intelligent. It was said of Zidane that he could change the game with a simple 5 yard pass. He never overcomplicated the game. He played it with a simple elegance that was balletic in appearance but surgical in its efficiency. This is a balance in qualities that very few ever come close to. There is a reason that Ronaldo Lima said that his favorite player to play with was Zidane. Zidane made everyone one around him look better. That is no small statement, the best players are the ones who can account for the tendencies of all the others around them. This means that they understand their role and how best to utilize their skill set to help the team. 


This is one of the many reasons this game is called “ The beautiful game”. It takes a beautiful collectivity of participation that is intellectually purposeful and intentional. Do not be fooled by the skill of the game, the skill of the game happens spontaneously, what we don’t get to see are the inner workings of the individual’s thought process, however if we watch the game closely  we can see that the tactical context of the game is what influences the decision making thought process. 


Becaome a student of the game. Learn how to see it, learn how to read it. If you can master that then interpretation and decision making will become a joy. The deeper you go with this idea the more you will realize that every move you make with or with out the ball changes the game and that the more intelligently you play this game the more effective you will be! This is the thinking man’s game!


Written by Coach Sean