Ralf Rangnick, Manchester United’s latest interim appointment as the club’s manager is regarded as one of the key innovators of football. His blood lies in various successful projects across the globe especially aggressive sporting projects such as the ones initiated by the Austrian kingmakers, Red Bull. Some of the lesser-known findings behind Rangnick’s work in Germany was his highly enthusiastic hunger for big data analysis and cognitive learning.
In this piece, I will introduce you to some of the technical conditions set up by coaches working inside Red Bull’s sports environment for developing emerging players from the grassroots level.
Rangnick’s contribution to the ideology of behavioral coaching was one of the key reasons behind the smooth transition of players from the academy to first-team football in RB Leipzig, RB Salzburg, and others.
The application of the countdown clock in training sessions was a subject that caught my eyes while Rangnick was talking in his keynote address as part of a seminar organized by Coaches’ Voice, a content platform for football coaches of today’s generation. Ever since the confirmation of Rangnick’s appointment, James Ducker from Telegraph revealed Rangnick’s intentions of bringing this technique back into Carrington.
This rewarding approach towards preparation has pushed numerous players to come out of their comfort zones during Rangnick’s previous ventures in Germany, something which I’m looking forward to since we’ve seen few players regress this season, such as our wingbacks Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw.
The methodology behind training a player’s cognitive understanding requires positive reinforcement from different warmup activities involving positional and ball-control aspects inside smaller compartments with limited passage. The common reasoning behind this method can be visible when an individual is dropped into unknown confinement with limited resources such as an island.
Take the example of a Federal Express engineer played by Tom Hanks in Robert Zemeckis’s film Cast Away, where he survives in an isolated environment after being trapped there for four days due to an accident.
Rangnick’s training methods involve a combination of the following components:
- Positive and negative reinforcement
- Systematic use of verbal instructions and feedback
- Positive practice
- Time out
Behavioural methods are often useful in off-the-ball activities which require pressure on the ball and defensive actions for winning it back. These methodologies are known to have immensely improved the correct execution of different actions on the pitch as per research conducted by Georgia State University on a set of 8 players in a citywide youth football program.
In standard coaching, the trainer provides a set of instructions for performing the task. If the player executes the instructed technique incorrectly, coaches will model the play and suggest corrections verbally. The main issue in this method is its ignorance in recorrecting a fundamental error as coaches assume that real-life experiences and repetitive practice will sort these issues. Coaches may be right here but the route towards end result might be endless and time-consuming.
On the other hand in behavioural coaching, performance observers take 5 main steps while rectifying issues for better results in a shorter time period. They are as follows:
(1)Executing the play – This involves verbal instructions similar to the standard model but the coach will whistle and yell ‘FREEZE’ at the position where the mistake occurs repeatedly allowing the players to visually understand the difficulty. And if the technique is executed correctly then the coach won’t whistle.
(2)Judging correct executions – This is mainly seen in off-the-ball actions especially when players perform or attempt a block against a player carrying the ball. Positive feedback is given for correct execution, whereas the coach uses another phrase for incorrect postures or blocking directions by shouting “don’t move”.
(3)Describing the incorrect position – The coach describes the error while the player remains in a frozen position.
(4)Modeling the correct position – At this point, the coach assumes the correct position for some action like blocking to facilitate the imitation of the topography of the player’s behaviour.
(5)Imitating the correct position – Here, the coach prompts the player to visualize and assume the position of an action during which time the trainer verbally describes the correct procedure.
For the last step, the dialogue between coach and player might happen in a similar manner as follows: “Try to feel the patterns in your muscles. Notice how you have a stable base, your weight is forward, and your elbows are parallel to the ground. Now that’s a good position that will help you to keep your opponent from throwing your block.”
After this process, the coach starts this sequence once more for more movement-related exercise, or performance analysts could add more iterations to ensure precision.
Now the main question would be, will these training exercises work in terms of improving an individual?
Let’s look into some of the results obtained by researchers using this method. In a trial conducted by Dr. Mary Allison of Georgia State University, cognitive training among footballers was effective in improving the execution of blocks attempted by five academy players separately to disrupt an attack. Observers who studied the training and collected data witnessed blocking reliability of 90% with a range of 84% to 94%. Before the initiation of training the brain, the reliability scores were below 45% to 56% as shown below using a specific baseline for all the players.
The skill execution of each player changed successively at the point where the experimental procedure was applied to the action of blocking for 4 to 5 players.
We have heard the likes of Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsman being the disciples of Ralf Rangnick and his tactical concepts. But, Rangnick himself was encouraged to build on modern coaching from veterans pursuing academy football like Frank Wormuth, who was the former Chief Instructor at the DFB Coaching Academy. He is also seen as one of Hansi Flick’s (Treble-winning coaches at Bayern Munich) motivational guru during his time at the DFB Academy.
Together with Joachim Low, he recognized issues of elementary behaviour on the offensive and defensive end while watching football matches. Wormuth presented his findings at International Trainers Congress 2011. He has a proper idea regarding execution and timings required on an average for each counter-attacks.
Rangnick follows a similar training methodology to Wormuth when it comes to vertical play in a football game. This technique has been fruitful while combining with behavioural methods due to the development of a more organized form of pressing against a set of opposition players. Some of the commonly implemented techniques are as follows:
(1) Negative Insertion: Different sequences of passes are completed inside a fitted square. It is known as one of the purest forms of exercise/technique coaching while executing a Gegenpressing style of play. Some of the elementary details such as pass quality, ball control with both feet in both directions. This exercise isn’t very helpful in terms of organizing the team and dictating the process but a good introductory training towards heavy metal football.
(2) Positive Insertion: This kind of an exercise will help teams take the next step towards playng in a heavy metal football system because it benefits the organizational area while playing a game of football. This technique improves vertical passing. Something which could help numerous players in the current United team like Scott McTominay and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who struggle to play forward passes instantaneously. Here, the no.6 as prescribed in the tactical diagram stays in an open position makes a fake forward run in a vertical play, while the no.10 stays vertically in line with no.5 initially and then moves deeply wide towards no.8, offering space to break inside the oppositions cover within a limited space.
(3) 10-on-10 Competition based preparation: The main focus behind this exercise deals with switching and building up with half an hourglass. But there is one condition: ball should not pass the yellow zone. Here the coach combines practiced technical details within the tactical framework of a possession based game. The tactical focus in a 11 vs 11 only works if the timing is mastered. While doing this, it’s important to continue the CFC formula i.e. Coach, Freeze, Correct iteratively until the vertical game works. The end goal of this exercise is reached when the players break through the two white cones placed in the center without passing the yellow zones under a certain time constraint.
Overall, Rangnick will need to assess the type of players that suit his system in 6 to 7 training sessions before implementing his behavioural coaching technique, but the German will try to work hard within a stipulated time to salvage this season so that he gets to make the best out of his consultancy role next season by convincing his calibre to the people upstairs at United. Pressure will be on the interim manager to prioritise results first but Rangnick is known to think deeply before taking the next step by keeping his team’s sustainability over longer periods in mind.
With Rangnick receiving his work permit from the Home Office, it’s just a matter of time to see how things will work out well or not for his United side this season. Until then, let’s keep supporting this team till the end.