Progression: Why Simple Doesn't Mean Easy

Put yourself in this situation. You are preparing a session for your coaching certification. You were directed to create a training session to improve a team’s ability to play through the midfield using a 3-4-3 system. You review your notes to make sure that you are incorporating all the necessary elements your professors have instructed you on throughout the course. You come across a something you’ve written down; the importance of progression in a training session. So you decide that you must design your practice starting with something easy and progress to a more difficult element. Surely, that’s what they mean by progression, right?

Progression: easy to complicated, simple to complex. In reality, do we really know what this means?

When I was completing my UEFA ‘B’ License in Granada, Spain, I had a professor named Oscar Cano Moreno (At the time of this article he is the U-19 Qatar Manager and has trained several important clubs in Spain). One evening in his methodology class, someone brought up the concept of progression in training sessions. Oscar shot up from his chair and embarked on one of his passionate, animated rants for what seemed like half the class.

“Simple doesn’t mean easy” he screamed. “And just because you start with one line and finish with your players zigzagging around the field and jumping through hoops doesn’t mean you’ve used progression in your session” he continued. He then forcefully drew what appeared to be an equation on the blackboard that looked something like this.



“You must progress from the simple concepts of your training objective to the complex result that the match provides us.” By this point he had relaxed and began explaining his thoughts in a calmer tone. “Now, don’t confuse simple with easy. And don’t think complex means complicated.” Within the next half hour, I would begin to understand what he meant by all this.

Read: Coaching in Context: Teaching Tactics and Technique

When crafting a session, one must start with the objective; playing through the midfield using a 3-4-3. Next, you have to ask yourself what is the main component that I would like to focus on in this system; supporting play between the two centre midfielders and the centre forward. Once you have the main component, you must dissect down to the group tactic needed to accomplish said component; creating asymmetric situations (2v1, 3v2). Lastly, for the players to execute the group tactic, they must be able to correctly perform individual technical actions; passes, receptions, and runs off the ball.

At this point, you now have a progression of concepts, your base from which you should create a session. When designing the session, every exercise should take into account these concepts from the warm-up to the final ‘match’ which will conclude your session.

Simple  --> Complex

Warm-Up -->Simple Small Sided Game -->Small Sided Game --> ‘Match with Variations--> Match

Body Activation   -->    Technical Skill     -->     Group Tactic    -->    Main Component    --> Objective

In this specific example, it would be unwise to try to train all of the technical skills mentioned in one session for the simple reason that it would be impossible for the player to assimilate all the information given. It would be highly recommended to train your objective for several sessions while incorporating different technical skills in each session. The group tactic and the main component should be repeated, and it depends on the coach whether or not they want to use the same exercise in multiple training sessions.

Read: Play the Game, Not the Rules

As you have seen when Oscar Cano proclaimed that simple doesn’t mean easy and complex isn’t complicated, he was talking about the concepts being trained. Progression does not refer to the difficulty of the exercises rather it refers to the complexity of the objectives. They must be dissected to their very essence and from there you work your way through their intricacy to ultimately reach the game itself.

Simple is never easy. Johan Cruyff said this, “Playing football is very simple but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.” Sometimes the most difficult task is simplifying what we claim to know. Only when we attempt to do this do we realize we have so much to learn. Simplify football, don’t make it easy.

Special thanks to Oscar Cano Moreno for inspiring this article.

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