Does watching soccer make you a better player?
By Coach Brady
These days of internet, satellite TV and DVDs have given us virtually unlimited visual access to the best soccer in the world. Such was not the case when I was young. For a Midwestern kid in the 70’s and early 80’s, what a professional did on the soccer field was quite literally a mystery. In my neighborhood, more people had seen Elvis in person than watched any live or recorded professional soccer. I was 21 years old in 1982 when ABC broadcast the World Cup on national television. It was the first time I had ever watched professional soccer players at their craft. I was hungry to see what they did on the field, to see if I could replicate even the smallest of skills. During the telecast I learned how to juggle with the outside of my foot by watching a Pepsi commercial with a three-second clip of a kid doing the skill. We watch and we do.
So the question is, how important to soccer development is actually watching high-level soccer? The answer: it is essential. Watching the form of a professional athlete, regardless of the sport, establishes within the viewer a subconscious understanding of proper form. It allows for self-awareness and self-correction. There is, in fact, evidence that the brain possesses what are called Mirror Neurons that are active when viewing others perform an activity. In turn, they assist the viewer in performing the same activity. They assist in early child psychological development and communication.
In addition to what happens subconsciously, there is great benefit in how it can challenge us to go beyond what we thought we were capable of performing. Watching Lionel Messi pass and dribble in tight spaces is direct evidence of what the human body is capable of doing. Human bodies, in fact, not unlike our own modest forms. People the size of Messi, Alves, Alba, Xavi and Iniesta play soccer on our fields—there are no LeBron James’ or any of the other NBA genetic monster types bouncing basketballs in Southern Michigan. Messi gives a boy of common size the realization that, with hard work, he can become a great and dominant soccer player. It poses a real challenge, and to those who accept challenges, it leads to great quality if not true greatness.
The internet, particularly YouTube, also helps players and coaches improve their skills. We are able to find examples of skills, style and drills that are directly related to our goals. If we want to become better shooters, we simply watch drills on the internet designed to improve our shooting, We then replicate those drills. Because most player improvement is self-motivated and done outside of practice, the internet coaching staff is a perfect fit for this type of learning.
We also learn much about tactics by watching high-level soccer. These players are good enough to replace the randomness we generally see on our pitches with thoughtful and planned ball movement. The British announcers will also explain throughout the game what they see developing tactically. It helps that games are shot at wide angles by the television cameras. This allows us viewers to see the connected movements of both the offense and defense. We can now begin to appreciate how soccer can be free flowing and planned at the same time.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for those who expect a long-lasting love affair with the game, watching the drama of international soccer bonds us with millions of others and gives us stock in the rich dynamic history of the beautiful game. While in the 70’s as I was ignorant of soccer, my high school simultaneously kept me ignorant of ancient Greek history. I am tempted to think there was a sinister conspiracy at work preventing me from ever knowing the pivotal Greek battle on the pitched field at Guagamela in 331 B.C. against the Persians, and the awakening of “Total Soccer” at the battle between Holland and West Germany on the pitch in Munich, July 7, 1974. Both events were important to Western civilization; although most Europeans are likely to believe the World Cup final more so, we are all made richer by making their stories part of our lives. Watching soccer games, present and past, has without a doubt, much to offer.