Why We Should Look to Other Sports to Improve Football


Today in sport, we are the most advanced we have ever been. The use of data & analytics is at an all-time high, methodically breaking down every inch of the relevant sport, whether it be football, American football, basketball or boxing. All with the goal of improving today’s athletes.

In this article I am going to be focusing on how other sports can develop, refine and possibly revamp football.

Manchester City Boss Pep Guardiola is one of the most famous proponents of cross-sports in football. During his tenures at Barcelona, Bayern & now Manchester City, he has consistently enlisting the advice & wisdom of Manuel Estiarte. Estiarte, a gold medalist at the 96’ Olympic Games in the sport of water polo, is never far from Pep’s side in a relationship that has spanned nearly 30 years. Pep is famous for taking influence from other high-level sport stars in his quest to formulate new ideas & inspiration as well. He is intrigued by multi-time chess world champion Magnus Carlsen & his approach when opening a game of chess, something Guardiola has taken & adapted to football, specifically when his teams build from the back.

Pep now finds himself obsessed with the best ‘team’ in the world of sport, New Zealand’s rugby team, known as the “All Blacks.” He has regular contact with coach & former teacher Eddie Jones. While watching Guardiola conduct a training session at Säbener Straße (Bayern’s training facilities) Jones said it “left him embarrassed about his own coaching ability”.

Pep Guardiola’s passion for football is evident to anyone who watches him and he places no limits on his search for football knowledge (Photo: The Independent)

Looking at the sport of basketball, the details & training methods which football has taken and emulated is astounding; the spacing and the ‘U’ shape circulation of the ball is almost identical. Positional play in football can almost be traced back to basketball, where the ball is always the reference point and the spacing of the players is set up in accordance with the position of the ball. The aim of positional play is to create superiority in the form of overloads in specific areas of the pitch or court, and this phenomenon can be seen often in both sports.

The game of basketball requires short explosive bursts of energy, whereas football training has always started with a ‘lap’ around the pitch & focused more on longevity and endurance. This is the placebo effect within football training that still exists: players don’t feel as though they have worked hard unless they have run a few miles. The truth is, players can cover more distance, work a variety of different muscles & focus on the technical and tactical aspect, all while having a ball at their feet.

Periodisation may seem like a pretty new concept, especially in football. Professor Vitor Frade is one of the original pioneers of periodisation in footbal, an idea that has given birth to a new wave of fitness coaches such as Jose Mourinho’s assistant coach, Rui Faria. At the moment Rui Faria is at the forefront of tactical periodisation or ‘TP’.

Rui Faria has worked with José Mourinho since 2001, and the two have won almost everything there is to win in club football (Photo: Mais Futebol)

While we are on the topic of periodisation, I want to mention Frederick C. Hatfield, a former powerlifter and bodybuilder who was instrumental to Evander Holyfield’s success in the 90’s. Evander had been the victim of ill-conceived slow distance work from the training dinosaurs of his youth. When Hatfield put Evander through a 3 minute explosive routine consisting of boxing specific agility, speed & plyometric drills, Evander needed a full 7-8 minutes for his heart-rate to drop below 120 bpm. In short, he did not have the capacity to sustain a high-performance level for even half of the duration of a professional fight.

On the topic of boxing, it amazes me how many of the drills & attributes required to box are transferable to football. Two-time Olympic gold medalist & in contention to be the greatest boxer ever, Vasyl Lomachenko is currently using training methods that have never been used before in the world of boxing. I believe a lot of these methods are perfect to train the motor skills required to play football at the highest level.

Vasyl uses coloured jenga pieces to build matching patterns, which to the naked eye looks as simple as it sounds, but the result of constant practice of this exercise ensures that his hand eye coordination is as sharp as possible. Another tool used by Lomachenko is the use of Schulte table; a Schulte table is a grid with randomly distributed numbers or letters used for development of speed reading, peripheral vision, attention and visual perception.

Now, don’t all those skills seem transferable to football?

Written by Sean (@TheHalfSpace)

Featured image courtesy of These Football Times