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Erik ten Hag’s modern training tool: automatism

by Seth Dooley

Having witnessed the excitement last season after coaching-innovator Ralf Rangnick was appointed as interim manager, Manchester United have opted to enlist another leader who favours modern-day training techniques.

Erik ten Hag has already referred to a coaching term which may be unfamiliar to a lot of people: “automatism”. He spoke about it before the Leicester City victory as well as before the Arsenal match.

Ralf Hassenhüttl is a big advocate of the exercise, as well as Antonio Conte.

But what exactly does automatism entail, how does it affect tactics, and why is it gaining popularity amongst modern coaches and hands-on managers?

Quite decipherable, automatism in a nutshell means to do something until it becomes automatic.
The idea is that a team will rehearse scenarios repeatedly until the specific movements and situational plays become like muscle memory.

Rhys Desmond of The Mastermindsite details,
‘These [automatisms] are rehearsed patterns of play based on the four key moments of the game: in possession, out of possession, defensive transitions, and attacking transitions.

Within each of those, automatisms are also based on the principle that every decision a player makes in a game should be based around four things: the opposition, the space, the ball, and their teammates.’

By combining each moment with each decision base, the manager essentially wants a player to know exactly what to do in every single circumstance on a football pitch.

This knowledge is a very important cognitive development for an athlete who is expected to undergo extreme physical exertion – especially given the current high-intensity, pressing game which dominates the Premier League.

As per Harsh Krishna of medium, when a player becomes fatigued, more often than not they will rely on habits to complete a match.

Furthermore, in an extreme environment – such as playing at Old Trafford against Liverpool, for example – a player may become overwhelmed or panicked (simply human nature) and thus use their acquired habits to determine what they do.

Ten Hag is attempting to make sure these habits will always be positive, useful, and universal in terms of the situations.

Already making his disciplinarian style known, the Dutchman is showing his thoroughness when it comes to coaching. Through automatisms, Ten Hag wants to ensure that his team can not only control any situation, but adapt quickly to any moment in the game.

Although it may take some time to pay dividends on the pitch, Ajax’s success and the signings of ‘Ten Hag players’ in Antony and Lisandro Martínez should give reason to be optimistic about the worth of automatisms.

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