A new breed of innovative minds are at work creating tomorrow’s footballer.
The aim is to manufacture athletic perfection, as a small band of elite visual experts, psychologists and skills coaches work towards producing the perfect player, armed with enhanced technique, vision, intelligence and mental resilience.
Tom Bates is a performance psychologist with a twist. He is West Brom’s peak performance coach and implements training sessions designed to improve concentration, composure and decision-making on the ball.
It’s late April and he’s demonstrating a technique known as mirroring at a science and football conference at the London Soccerdome – a vast indoor arena in the south east of the city – in front of a 400-strong band of coaches from across the globe.
Bates has worked with numerous West Brom players to develop their speed of decision-making
A set of coloured markers are laid out on the pitch, with the player required to dribble through them at pace in a sequence of their choice, using any turns or body swerves they deem appropriate. Opposite, a team-mate is tasked with creating a mirror image by copying that exact route in an identical fashion at the same time.
As with all his sessions, Bates has minimal vocal input, interrupting the drill only to offer words of encouragement before asking the players questions and offering them the chance to give feedback at the end. The key is encouraging each player to think independently at speed.
“The modern-day player is evolving,” Bates tells BBC Sport. “We want to make intelligent footballers.
“The Premier League is getting faster. Players have less time on the ball and need to be able to make decisions quickly, independent of the coach. The more we practise in that way, the faster we’re able to make correct decisions under pressure – playing the right pass, hitting a shot.”
This article, by football writer Alec Fenn, was first published on the BBC News website on 29th October 2014
Read the rest of the article here.