What Can We Learn from Video Games?

By Scott Leber:

Most kids love video games, they always have. Even in the days of Atari and Nintendo, kids were glued to the screen for hours to beat the next level or earn a new cool weapon. Now that screen can fit in your pocket or cover a wall, and games are flashier and more interactive than ever. Grabbing a soccer ball and heading outside faces some stiff competition these days.

But instead of lamenting technology’s often sedentary influence on kids, why not learn from video games’ appeal, and apply it to something like soccer?

The following 10 steps outline how to make practice more like a video game, in turn motivating players to spend more time with the ball. After all, improving sounds hard, but not if you make it a game!

Check out iSoccer.org to begin making practice a game.

Before moving on, let’s agree that at a minimum, to improve technique, you need:

  1. Increased time with the ball
  2. Efficient use of time with the ball
  3. Intensity and effort during time with the ball

Now let’s talk about how to create a new game dynamic that excites players to do all three thingsMario .

  1. Keep it simple: Video games are easy to understand – so are toe taps and dribbling a figure 8. For young kids, complexity in practice can often detract from the real goals (A, B, C above).
  2. Give objective feedback: In a video game, if you mess up, you die, start over, ect. It’s simple, and a very easy concept for kids to grasp. Acheiving a high score is objective, unlike much of the feedback given on the practice field. So make it black and white.
  3. Set a clear goal: If you beat a level, you get to go to the next level. Set clear technical goals for players to either reach, or fail to reach.
  4. Failure is accepted: How many times do kids start a video game level over before they beat Game Overit? Make it clear to players that they aren’t expected to reach a goal on the first try, but should keep trying until they do so, which creates:
  5. Repetition!: There are people out there that can grab a Nintendo controller and fly through Mario Brothers without thinking, even though they haven’t played it in years, because of the hours they spent as a kid. Now picture a player doing that on the field with scissors moves and their first touch…
  6. Add time constraints: What happens in video games when time starts running out? Intensity and work rate go up, and players push their limits. Use this simple psychological motivator in practice.
  7. Deliberate problem solving: In a video game, a player gets to a point where they cannot continue until they master the skill necessary to move forward. Use this same concept in technical training to isolate and focus on weaknesses.Mario Wins!
  8. Celebrate improvement: Congratulations always feels good when you earn something! Create a team of achievers.
  9. Recognize improvement: Whether public or private, recognition is powerful. Think leader boards, high scores, most improved or awards ceremonies.
  10. Foster healthy competition: It starts with a player competing against themselves to get to the next level, but when applied to a team dynamic, these steps will help create healthy competition around improving technically, instead of just winning and losing.

Technical development is the most important aspect of the game for young players. By tapping into game psychology, and learning from video games, we can motivate kids to get off the couch and go spend time with the ball. Not only will they be doing something healthy and fun, they will be improving as soccer players as well.

iSoccer provides the structure and rules to the game – now its up to coaches, parents and teammates to take it to the field. Follow all or some of the steps above, make it fun, and reward improvement to add a new dimension to practice that takes technical training to the next level!

Reach out to Scott Leber at s.leber@isoccer.org