The KNVB, Royal Dutch Football Association, is one of the most decorated and respected football associations of all time. They have produced the likes of Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Clarence Seedorf, Wesley Sneijder, and the list goes on and on. More importantly, however, the KNVB is known for the style of soccer it promotes: they encourage technical excellence. There was a period in the 1970’s when the KNVB was playing beautiful soccer, but they were not winning anything. During that period they played their rivals – the Germans – and lost numerous times but suggested they were satisfied because they played a nicer game.
In 1988, this all changed. The Dutch won the European championship and beat their rivals Germans in the semi-finals. It was then that they realized that the difference between playing to look good and playing to win is drastic.
So what changed during that time frame that brought them to this realization? What did they do differently?
Rather than focusing on the development of individual players, the KNVB began to promote technical excellence at a team level. They wanted the players to develop the team game at a game-speed level. And so they embarked on a journey to change “pretty soccer” to winning soccer. The KNVB implemented the following golden rule:
Technical activities should not be considered as the be-all and end-all for soccer and for training sessions. The game, playing maturity, playing matches and pleasure in playing should be most important. Technical activities such as heading, turning, feinting, ball control, passing, etc, are too often exercised individually and in a way that is out of context with the game. They are taught as individual “tricks of the trade” and very seldom incorporated into playing the game. All technique must be taught within the context of the game at all times.
There it is, that is the key to winning soccer – train within the context of the game. Create game-like scneario’s and a game-like tempo. The more you incorporate this at a team level, the more you will grow and the better you will become. Above all else, you will begin to make the transformation from good looking soccer to winning soccer.