Earthquake of wisdom
Training lessons from Seirul·lo and Cappa
Around 2007, Paco Seirul·lo and Ángel Cappa met in a talk in Barcelona to discuss about training and football. What emerged from that occasion, for me, was what I call a psychological earthquake: an episode —or ideas— that shook everything, an immense mental disturbance. At that moment, many of the schemes I had built in my mind fell away and I was forced to learn and build new ones, and better ones. Those moments leave me with an ambiguous feeling, many doubts and the need to ask questions, to find new answers.
I guess that's why, when I came across that conversation for the first time, before I entered university waiting for the best answers and recipes to learn the profession of a physical trainer, it generated some rejection in me. Paco Seirul·lo mentioned that “physical preparation doesn't exist”, the profession that I dreamed of dedicating myself to was being burdened.
This week —about 6 years later— writing about the decontextualized physical preparation of sport, about the mania we have to separate the areas of performance and not approach it as a “whole”... I came across this conversation again. I was amused to see how much 17-year-old Martí had left to learn, and it made me a little proud that he had changed his mind so radically.
What these two characters mean is impossible to define briefly or with simple labels such as “physical trainer”, “coach” or “methodology director”. Paco Seirul·lo has been one of the main culprits of the glorious era of FC Barcelona in the Dream Team of Cruyff, Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola. Ángel Cappa has also been found in successful environments and with coaches such as César Luis Menotti or Jorge Valdano.
A Spanish newspaper transcribed the conversation between two of the most influential people in physical preparation/training in recent decades. Fosbury Flop brings you the English version. It can convey a lot more ideas than any post I could ever write.
Read and enjoy. I wish these two wise men can help you as much as they have helped me.
Ángel Cappa: I don't know if you will agree, but for me physical preparation/training as such doesn't exist. There is preparation for a football player, a basketball player, a tennis player, but not physical preparation/training in general.
Paco Seirul·lo: I agree. Before, by mistake, it was thought that first you had to make the athlete and then play whatever sport. If you wanted to train resistance, you trained equally in the mountains, in the sea... wherever. And then they adapted that resistance to their sport. And it is not like that. This way you lose time and energy, because each sport requires its specific treatment.
ÁC: The speed, for example. In football it is different, it has to do with precision, with seeing the game beforehand.
PS: I have trained in other sports and football is the one that stimulates more the player's abilities: his intelligence, decision-making, sensitivity, understanding of space and time... Why? In football, the same thing that you use to get around you use to play, and you have to be focused on yourself and on the team. So the talents in this sport are, personally, very special types.
ÁC: That makes me remember an anecdote that I lived with Maradona. We were watching a Michael Jordan basketball game and I said: “Diego, what a great player he is, right?” And he told me; “Yes, he's great, I admire him, but don't forget that he plays with his hand, eh?”
PS: Of course, that is the difficulty of football: the feet, and that entails many motor obligations, which, in turn, complicate the athlete's perception and interpersonal relationships. Players often tell me: “Hey, Paco, why don't we train speed?” And I answer that we train that every day, because that's what football is: speed, acceleration... not just running, but adapting to running with respect to the ball and the opponent. Touch the ball with the appropriate speed and towards where you want.
ÁC: The strength is also different. For me, strength in football is cunning.
PS: For sure. It's applying your energy at the right time. If not, strength is useless. If you are very strong and every time you collide with one they take the ball from you or you are missing, you are lost.
ÁC: There are people who mistakenly think that tall players head more and better. And it's not true. You have to know how to jump and know how to head.
PS: In fact, the great headers in history have never been very tall. They have been average guys but very clever, guessing the trajectory of the opponent, the ball and the precise speed.
ÁC: There are many myths in the physical preparation/training of our sport. One is the warm-up; another, the preseason; and the third, lifting weights.
PS: They are, in my opinion, three key issues. The preseason is the most serious. I believe that it is impossible that, training for a month, the tank of a football player is filled, as is intended, for the entire season. Impossible. And we, the trainers, have to beat ourselves up on this because we have given too much importance to the preseason. Doing double and triple training for two weeks is not good for the players. You only manage to tire them and that they are paying for it during the first five league games. For me the correct thing is to prepare for the first game only. Exclusively. And then for the second… and so on. You can't do a preseason training two weeks in a row in three shifts without touching the ball. It hurts and is not useful.
ÁC: When I coached in South Africa, the players came from doing four sessions a day. That was a massacre. And about the warm-up, what do you say? There is a kind of obsession with spending 25 minutes warming up. I saw how Cruyff warmed up on his day and only kicked the ball and some light running. Maradona, the same. It is true that there are nervous players who perhaps do need to run more to get rid of those nerves. But that's all.
PS: I have discussed a lot about this and tried a lot. For us, the fact of warming up is only a socio-affective act, that is, it only serves to put you in contact with your colleagues and with the environment. That is the main objective of the warm-up. Because there is another added problem. The players, if they play ten o'clock at night, they get up at six to have a snack. And when they get up, like everyone else, something hurts. So it's about moving around a bit, in general, and then you start with the ball, pass it few times and that's it. I have seen a thousand times how a player goes out to play without warming up, due to another player's injury, and nothing happens to him. He plays without any problem.
ÁC: That happens in basketball. The players come out suddenly, without warming up and nothing happens.
PS: Or in tennis. I have not seen tennis players circle the court before playing. They come out, warm-up by hitting the ball, a couple of serves... and the game begins.
ÁC: Another myth, due to ignorance, is to think that if the player runs more he will play better football.
PS: In our sport, just with the three runs you do after the center kick and a couple of movements... you've already warmed up. And from there, you can run all you want. I can't say it's outrageous to warm-up, but it's not necessary to do those exaggerated warm-ups to which football has accustomed us. Another thing would be, for example, a 400 meter race. There yes, because it is an individual, specific and unique effort in a short time. But in football, not at all!
ÁC: Dr. Oliva used to say that “feeling tired is not being tired”. Tiredness is partly psychological. The mood has a lot to do with it. You never see a team that winning 4-0 is tired.
PS: You see that in athletics. The one who arrives first, who should be the most tired, then spends the time going around the track, saying hello... and the others are on the ground in dust. And it is because of the emotional factor. It's the endorphins. Your own body generates self-esteem. That is why only a small biological factor justifies the warming. But, I insist, nothing more.
ÁC: The funny thing is that no one talks about physical preparation/training, except when the team loses. There everything is justified.
PS: Yeah, it seems like they suddenly don't run. And why don't they run? Well, perhaps because they are losing and not the other way around. When a player makes two bad passes, the solution is not to run, but to stop to recover.
ÁC: And the pressure. The permanent tension of winning also greatly influences the physical.
PS: That is noticeable, above all, in the recovery. Stress breeds more stress. The players, in a negative dynamic, do not recover well and that is why they are tired. At Barça our training sessions are based on change. We never do two identical workouts, that have the same intensity or the same goal. At the third equal training, the players do not respond. It's no use. Habits generate initial stability but end up destroying. The players, to adapt to the new training, take out the energy that they had parked and the team benefits from that.
ÁC: In addition, you have to train with creativity. Not everything should be foreseen, speaking from a football point of view. It also depends on the day, on what arises at that moment. Many times one changes what was planned in the morning.
PS: I apply some minimum parameters, but then I observe and if I see that from a series done, doing more is useless, I leave it. Players lose interest if there is a lot of repetition. Of the coaches I've had at Barça, the ones who have handled this aspect the best have been the ones who have had the best results.
ÁC: When I do exercises for the defenders, for example, I don't think about the time they should be doing them. That depends on many factors.
PS: A lot of coaches get anxious about this. If an exercise is missing two series, they remind you in anguish. And nothing happens! Players often want to know exactly what they need to do to get their body ready for that effort. That's why I try to keep them always alert. I don't want them to be civil servants training. This is how they motivate themselves, although, to be honest, motivation in football comes from the fact of scoring goals... and nothing else.
ÁC: Shall we talk about the weights? There is an obsession with it. Many believe that if you are more muscular you play better and get less injured. And it is not so.
PS: There is a mistake: always assign injuries to physical preparation/training. In football there are two things: accidents and injuries. Accidents, of which we have many, are inevitable and injuries, which we have fewer, are not. Using the weights in a generic way, in movements and in loads that are very foreign to football, is a mistake. The weights prepare the muscle for other activities that are not going to be used by the player on the pitch. And that causes overloads. Strength training must be used to improve strength focused on football, not generically. Another thing is that from 16 to 19 years the footballer needs a muscular formation so that he stops being a citizen of the street and become a sportsman. But if he can be with the ball, better. Why? Because the ball adds the coordinating element that you later use in the field. If you do three leg hops, as an exercise, but without the ball, it doesn't make sense. Where you jump, how you support... everything is different if you put a ball through. That's why you have to do it with the ball. It is not the same to jump as to jump to have to direct a pass. For this reason, physical preparation/training for football must always be done with the ball. The concept is wrong. The question is not to gain strength in the legs, but to adapt the strength to what you are going to do later on the field. The opposite generates injuries, because the muscle is not prepared.
ÁC: To this we must add that today the players have too many games, too much tension. If you are in a big club, there is always an obligation to win.
PS: And also the players go from the national team to the clubs and vice versa. And no one trains the same. Players vary from one type of training to another and that affects them.
ÁC: When I join a new team in the middle of the season, I always ask what the previous physical trainer was doing so as not to generate imbalance.
PS: Many times the fault lies with us, the physical trainers, because in order to be different we have invented things that harm the players.
ÁC: To summarize, I think there is a preparation/training focused on the muscle and another, the correct one, focused on football, on the game.
I wish you were left with a lot of questions and few answers, you'll thank them in the long run.
Thank you for coaching with blood, Paco and Ángel.
Martí Cañellas | Fosbury Flop
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