Case Study: The Brain And Football - Part 2

"Bruyninckx's methods and philosophy touch on the last frontier of developing world-class individuals" - Renowned tennis coach educator Pete McCraw
Only two professional clubs have picked up on training approach pioneered by Professor Wolfgang Schoellhorn - Spanish giants Barcelona and German outfit Mainz - though in January he gave a lecture to the German Football Federation. Working with Schoellhorn, Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel has incorporated drills of playing 20-a-side games or 11 versus 11 in one half of the pitch to improve speed and agility, with wingers only allowed to move within a specific space. Tactics would only be discussed using videos.

"Players have to take responsibility. They have to be creative and take responsibility and have to find the optimal solution. It's a whole philosophy. In football you are fighting against a lot of tradition. The reason why Barcelona's fitness coach Paco Seirullo and Tuchel were ready to listen was that they were already aware of this theory," Schoellhorn added.

Mainz striker Lewis Holtby, who is of German-English descent, has described working with Tuchel as "extraordinary", while his midfield team-mate Andreas Ivanschitz has quipped that you need to be a university professor to understand the coaching sessions at the Bundesliga club. Another German coach Horst Lutz, the founder of Life Kinetik, has worked with Borussia Dortmund or Hoffenheim, in the area of "brain performance".

Perhaps not surprisingly the way Barcelona play football has key reference points for Michel Bruyninckx and during his training sessions players are continuously moving to better understand time and space when they practise the drills. He explained: "If a team continuously plays the balls in angles at very high speed it becomes impossible to recover the ball. This requires high concentration and creativeness."

Not that Bruyninckx is only interested in exploring how the brain might best be used by his players. Biomechanics, psychology and kinesiology are equally important in what the Belgian coach calls a "holistic" approach to training. Many researchers warn that there is too much conditioning in our world and deliver athletes and people with health problems both physical as mental. If that is the case we can't go on with our traditional approaches - we must look for other ways," the Belgian continued.

Bruyninckx points out that in Spain there is no 11-a-side football before the age of 15. He also believes that if you want to produce technical footballers then forget the idea of competition. "I create players that can play to win at the right moment, but firstly you have to explain that learning is more important than winning games," he added.

In addition to his desire to cultivate talented footballers, Bruyninckx has made it his aim to create well-rounded human beings, who if they fail to make the grade professionally, go on to successful careers outside football. He stresses at the start and end of each game that players, parents, coaches and referees must greet one another. He has just returned from a coaching demonstration at Dinamo Minsk for trainers from Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania, but before leaving he took a wander round the Belarusian capital and bumped into some of the youngsters he had coached.

Bruyninckx said: "They came and greeted and shook my hand. This is the most important message: they respect me and they are telling me I've taught them a lot. It's about letting 'competition' go and opting for 'education and apprenticeship'."

Bruyninckx, who also uses his method to help elderly people and children with behavioural problems, demands that his players also concentrate on their academic studies. If they do not they are banned from training with him - in some cases for up to a month at a time. That demand for academic rigour has had spin-offs for Redingenhof secondary school.

"Progressively over five years the school performance has improved remarkably. The results of 80% of the children in the "elite group" have always been above the average results of the regular secondary school children. The teachers' reactions are very positive regarding school performance and behaviour. The project has been extended to other sports as volleyball, dancing, basketball, table tennis, cycling and from next year tennis," Redingenhof headmaster Yves Dewolf commented.

Like Schoellhorn, Bruyninckx has admitted that he is fighting "a lot of traditional habits" in football, but slowly the Belgian is beginning to win recognition for his work. The Dutch Football Federation recently awarded its "More than Football" award - normally given to professional clubs - to Dutch amateur team club Apeldoorn which has started to use the Bruyninckx method in recogniton of its social benefits.

"I've never met anyone like him in football with the possible exception of Wiel Coerver. Michel is so inspiring, so enthusiastic, always open minded and friendly. He gives players freedom, but also sets down boundaries that they mustn't cross. He demands very high standards," said Eurosport commentator Herman Hobert, referring to the famed Dutch skills coach and former Feyenoord manager, nicknamed "the Albert Einstein of Football".

Elsewhere Canada, the United States, Nigeria, Egypt, Austria, Germany, France, Brazil and Turkey have been in contact with Bruyninckx about his method. The one country to show minimal interest in the Belgian's approach is England.

"In the UK intelligence is not valued. But the brain - it is the most important thing; it is everything," stated ex-USSR international Sergei Baltacha, who is director of coaching at Bacons Football Academy - the first football development centre in London - and has been working Bruynincxk over the last year.

Original article by John Sinnott
Source: BBC, Eurosport, Bacons Football Academy

Related Article:
Case Study: The Brain And Football - Part 1

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