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The Beautiful (Board)game

Have you ever watched an NFL or college football game and heard an announcer mention that after a player made a spectacular play, they reference the fact they played a different sport like basketball in high school? Most commonly this occurs after a player makes a great catch and the commentators note how the player was able to move their body in a way that "shields" the defender. Although they may not directly say it, they are actually describing the "geometry" of the game.

There is recent literature coming out describing the various benefits of playing multiple sports growing up not only for personal growth and development, but sport specific benefits as well. Mainly, a different sport provides different dynamic movements that require different groups of muscles working together. This new, learned pattern can be applied to other sports (like a tight end that played basketball boxing out a defender to make a catch).

But playing one sport in particular can be of great benefit to soccer players: chess! Soccer is a unique game in the fact that there are no timeouts, no set plays (outside of set pieces) or really time to rest outside of halftime.

What this creates is a constantly changing environment based on where your teammates and opponents are, weather conditions, how the referee is calling a match, and how teams even change tactics/formations during a game. Trainers at the highest level of the game constantly talk about the "geometry" of soccer and how to manipulate space.

The best players in the world, in addition to having wonderful technical ability, fitness and focus, also think the game the most efficiently. When a player does not have the ball, they interpret space and what other players are doing to determine the best location to receive a pass. As the ball is coming to them, they re-examine the space and opportunities around them, and either pass, dribble, or shoot. But again the best players go beyond this decision alone. They recognize what the next play and the one after that should be.

For example: a player is in the offensive third. The first decision made is where to move either to receive the ball or create space for a teammate. Next, for example, if they receive a pass do they dribble, pass, or shoot based on what they are processing on the field. Regardless of the decision, where does the first touch go? Is there a first touch or a one-time shot? If the player dribbles, where? Do they try to beat a player or dribble to create a new space for a pass?

When the game is played at the highest level it is typically played at a rapid pace. Not because players are physically faster, but because their processing of the game is so quick and their technique matches it that they can play at a quicker speed.

Chess is a game we incorporate in our training sessions at Philmont FC to improve player development. Players are taught about multi-step processing, the constant changing of big and small picture strategy within a game and how to adapt, as well as facilitating quicker decision making.

So the next time you watch a soccer game, think chess!


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