The Modelling Aproach to learning football skills.

Ludwig Wittgenstein made his thoughts rizomatic rather than arboreal.   In other words, instead of starting from the roots and working in a methodical way to bring things under one rule, a rhizome approach is a network with diverse forms, no particular foundation, for ever increasing connections, but following lines in much the same way as an evolutionary tree.   I have taken this analogy and applied it to learning.   As the above diagram portrays, learning comes at us from many directions, in many forms and no particular structure to it.   We just LEARN.

How footballers can learn by modelling other, and more experienced players.

Modelling in football is a situation where a player observes another players tchnique or skill, and then attempts to reproduce it

Weil Coever built a coaching system based on modelling players such as Cruyff, Pele, Platini and Maradona.


Footballing greats such as Cruiff, Maradona, Pele and Platini were analysed and ‘modelled‘ by Coerver.

It is well documented that footballers can learn much by observing other players performing football skills.   However, it should be pointed out that learning is an internal process and there is no guarantee that the learning will result in a change a player’s behaviour.

Listening and learning does not garantee a change in behaviour.

It is not always possible or desirable to copy the exact action of a model, the learning player can take advantage of the demonstration as a guide to facilitate his own learning.   Seeing a demonstration of the modelled behaviour can trigger similar coordination patterns within him.

The author, (Maurice Tillotson) models the technique of a ‘push pass’ to a learning footballer. 

The modelled behaviour is an approximate guide for the learner who will find his own solution on how to integrate the technique or skill into his game.

It can be important; but not always necessary, that the model has a similar standing to the player in question.   For example it is better for a young player to observe and emulate the model provided by another young player as opposed to a senior model (vicarious learning).

It could be deemed more advantageous for a female footballer to model Brazil’s Martha than Argentine’s Messi.

As was discussed in the Behavioural section on learning (see this website); a player is likely to copy the actions of the modelled behaviour when the positive aspects of her actions are reinforced.

In order to benefit from modelling another player’s actions the learner must foremost be motivated enough to want to learn the skill.   Secondly, it is vital to focus and pay attention to the details of how the skill is performed.   The learning player needs to be able to retain the observed skills in her mind, and be self-motivated enough to spend much time practicing them.   It is wise to emphasize the importance that paying attention, and focusing, play when discussing how footballers learn.

 The focusing of attention cannot be underestimated during the learning process.

It is beneficial that the learner should seek out a model player with similar characteristic to herself.   Model’s of the same gender and similar age of the learner will help to make the modeled behavior more conceivable to the learner.   Other considerations could concern the learner’s belief that she can realistically reach the model’s standard of competency.   Has she the necessary drive and determination to reach the excellence provided by the model?   As discussed in the section on cognitive learning on this website; how much prior knowledge does the learner bring to the task in order to add to their own football schema.

Vicarious learning is easier with a similar model.

For the modeled behavior to be memorable, it has to be meaningful, have a certain amount of familiarity, be distinctive and must be able to be integrated into the footballer’s personal performance.

In order to  be motivated into learning the modeled skill the player must identify the value of using and performing the skill (in match situations).   He should identify the value to his overall performance which the modeled activity will bring.   His self-efficacy should ensure that he is capable of performing the behavior (see Self-Efficacy on this website).

 Reproducing the modelled skill is influenced by her intellectual competence, her coordination and how much practice she is prepared to put in.

Mirror Neurons are a comparitively recent discovery.

A more recent addition to the credibility of the modelling process has been the discovery of ‘Mirror Neurons’ in the brain.   It has been identified that certain neurons ‘fire’ when we see an action performed.   There has always been an awareness that observing a certain action can prompt us into performing and repeating it.   However, the discovery of ‘mirror neurons’ gives biological evidence of the value of modeling another:   “Monkey see; monkey do.”

Monkey see; monkey do.

A line of thought suggests that that verbalizing the action whilst performing it is highly beneficial.   Key words such as “smooth,” “head down,” “I am doing well,” have been used by the author when coaching individual novice players.

Verbalizing when executing a technique can be a useful ploy.

It is well documented in sports psychology literature of how the use of visualizing techniques can enhance sporting excellence.  In relation to the modelling process; constructing a mental model of the technique or skill by visualization has also been found to be effective.