Coaching Lessons From a Video Game – FIFA 19

Welcome back to The Mastermind‘s coaching section. Today, we discuss why every coach should use FIFA 19 or the other EA Sports FIFA Video Games to learn about and analyze their team.

One of the biggest dangers in the world of coaching in youth sports today is the concept of “joy-sticking” – whereby coaches control every act their players do and do not give their athletes freedom to be autonomous in their decisions. What is described in this article may be controversial as it is a literal form of “joy-sticking”. However, this article presents the various ways that playing the EA Sports’ FIFA video game series can be useful in analyzing your players, tactics and playing style, especially if coaches are mindful that what they do on the game may not translate into the real world. Although it is only a video game and a literal form of joy-sticking, every coach can benefit in a lot of ways from creating and playing with their team on FIFA 19.

Background Context 

FIFA 19 and its various predecessors have done a wonderful job in allowing you to create up to 30 customized players. Essentially, this can allow someone to create the team that they coach, while still having 10-15 spots open to create other players. These 10-15 spots can be used to create rival players or perhaps players a coach may be looking to add to their squad in the future. What I have done in the past is create my squad (17 players) in addition to 13 rival players or players that may be on the cusp of my squad next year. I’ll then add all of these players I create to an already existing club (while transferring all of that club’s real players away) and make this club my team. In the past, I’ve also added rival players to other teams in the league. From there, you can start a career mode, play in a tournament or even just a few matches if that’s all your heart desires. The game does not allow any team to have less than 18 players, but if looking to play career mode, that is really all you need to be successful. There are so many benefits to doing this for you as a coach, even if all of it has little way of translating to the real game.

Learning About Your Players

Through the process of creating your players in the game, you will discover your own opinions and subjective values of your players. In other words, at the very least, you will learn about how you perceive your players and their various attributes. This is because the game gives you the opportunity to evaluate players on their various attributes in several key areas in the game. This allows you to be reflective on your players’ strengths and areas for improvement. When creating your players on the game, don’t get obsessed with appearances in trying to make everything perfect. For most of us, the teams that we coach are youth players, so creating an adult player will never be perfect. For a lot of us as well, like the case with my team, we coach girls. EA Sports FIFA does not currently have an apt system for creating female players, so the players unfortunately may look a bit masculine in their appearances. The important thing is not that they look exactly like they would in real life, but that they have similar attributes and playing style to how they would perform in real life. If you are going to worry about anything in terms of their physical appearance, just worry about their height and physicality.

Every coach already needs to reflect on what it is that makes their players tick. What are their strengths, what are their weaknesses and what is their playing style? Who works well together? What positions suit their playing style? These are all questions coaches should already be asking of themselves. But actually inputting those things into a system like FIFA, can be incredibly useful in giving coaches the platform to have that introspection. If you only get past this stage and don’t even play with your team on the game, that’s fine. Because analyzing your players’ attributes is certainly beneficial, especially if you can then use that information to make your players better. Coaches should be mindful not to become critical of players for not having certain attributes. Instead, they should work with their athletes to help them develop those areas and become better players.

Learning About Your Team’s Playing Style

One of the essential things in any FIFA Career mode is developing your team’s style of play, formation and tactics. These are also elements that coaches should be mindful about in the real world. Again, FIFA gives you the platform to actually see these elements in an organized way. You could for example pick 11 of your players and then just toggle through the various formations and see which one you think might fit best based on your personnel. Obviously this does not translate to trying out a number of formations with your teams in the real world. But it is a simple and easy way to see how your players, based on the attributes that you have ascribed to them, might respond to different situations and different formations. It can also help you understand what your team’s style of play is. For example, a couple of key elements to my coaching is that I like my players to play wide and I like them to hunt down the ball the moment they lose it.  By using FIFA 19, I can see how that might look in the formations I want to play, mainly 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3.

Under the “Tactics” section in Career Mode, FIFA does a really great job in allowing you to analyze your defensive and offensive style. Even just scrolling through the options can give you ideas about what you might want to work on in practice with your teams. For example, I have set my defensive settings to “press after possession lost” with more width than depth. If I had a team that was less capable with their defending, I may instead opt for the “drop back” option. In attack, I have set my team’s settings to  “fast build-up”, with again more width than depth. We are a team who don’t like to keep possession just for the sake of keeping possession and like to play fast on the break. Now instead of using a term like “counter attack” and confusing my players, I might actually use that exact wording when implementing this style of play with my team.

These terms are really great because they are so simple and can help narrow it down to the basics of what you are really trying to teach to your players. In the real world of professional football, no one uses terms like “drop back” or “fast-build-up” to describe style of play. Instead they say “low press” or “counter-attack”. As a result youth coaches begin to use those terms when communicating to their players. But those terms are more complicated than youth players are often capable of handling. Being cognizant of that and using these simplified FIFA like terms could be what you need to introduce tactics to your team in a simplified manner at an early age.

Establishing Instructions & Roles

FIFA also does a great job in allowing you to analyze various instructions you might set for your players, such as giving your left winger freedom to roam around but your right winger more defensive responsibilities. Although coaches shouldn’t go crazy with this, it may be worth a look. This could be especially useful for coaches who are able to find that balance between being detail-oriented in their approach but still giving their athletes autonomy in their decisions. Coaches should not however use this as a tool to learn about the exact types of things they can say to manipulate their players into doing what they want. Similarly, the various set-piece duty “roles” that coaches can ascribe to players should probably not be taken into consideration in the real game. Unless you are coaching a professional club, it is best for every player to be given the opportunity to practice corners, free kicks, penalties, etc., as chances are you don’t have a David Beckham who can score or create something every single time. 

Again, players need to be given the autonomy to make their own decisions, which is something FIFA 19 does not allow. That is the key difference that must be remembered when playing with your team on the game. You are playing with your team, as opposed to real life where you are coaching your team. It is a different experience and coaches who use FIFA 19 as a platform to guide their coaching should always remember that. 

Conclusion 

For detail-oriented coaches in particular, FIFA 19 and its predecessors in the EA Sports realm can be very useful for helping you establish and analyze team tactics and personnel. It can be a useful tool to discovering your own inner thoughts toward your players and can even give you the opportunity to see how they may gel together on the actual field. Although it is not real life and coaches should be careful not to joy-stick and control their teams and players in real life, it can be beneficial for coaches to use FIFA 19 as a platform to analyze their team and players. If coaches need that outlet to feel in control of what their players are doing at all times, FIFA 19 is a much better place to do it than in the real world. But anyone who takes their team to the virtual world should always remember that it is just a simulation and not the real thing.

Thanks for reading and see you soon! Check out more Coaching articles here.

 

 

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