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Intensity stoked in the competitive cauldron

A concept developed in basketball and popularised by one of US college soccer’s most successful coaches has been adopted by a women’s team competing in England’s fifth tier.

Fred Wright, coach at Whyteleafe Women, was inspired by Anson Dorrance’s use of the ‘competitive cauldron’ system at the ultra- successful University of North Carolina (UNC) women’s program.

The ‘competitive cauldron’ measures various performance indicators at training and Wright – a 36-year-old Uefa B licenced coach – credits it with boosting the intensity of his team’s sessions this season.

SCW caught up with him prior to one training session this week to find out more…

SCW: What is the ‘competitive cauldron’ and where did it come from?

FW: “It’s a way of being able to track everything in training. You can track who’s the fittest in the team, you can track who’s scoring the most goals in training, you can track who’s winning the most [small-sided] games, who’s drawing, who’s losing.

“It was first brought into football by Anson Dorrance. He originally got the idea from a basketball coach called Dean Smith, who was running the basketball program with UNC.

“Anson used it in his context with soccer, on the women’s side of things, and built a very, very successful team there. He also worked with the women’s national team using the same system.

“It was built to make a more competitive environment that could translate onto the pitch and for Anson it worked very, very well. And it’s something that I’ve just started to assemble and use myself here.”

SCW: How does it work for you in practice?

FW: “At the moment, we use it with our small-sided games. We track games played, wins, draws, losses and win percentage – not everyone is at training every week, so when they are, their wins or losses do still matter.

“The key stats we are looking at right now are goals scored, assists and clean sheets.

“We are using it to try and generate a little bit more competition in training so we can translate that into a matchday.

 

“It was built to make a more competitive environment that translates on pitch…”

 

“Obviously Anson is full time with his players, so the contact time is a lot different and because they have so many more coaches, they can track so much more – how many passes a player makes, things like that.

“Transferring it into our context was more of a challenge. We needed to see what was important to us and what we needed to track.”

Fred Wright has adapted the ‘competitive cauldron’ concept brought into soccer by Anson Dorrance to his Whyteleafe Women team

SCW: Essentially, then, this is to contextualise your small-sided games and do some number crunching from it?

FW: “Exactly. We recognise the girls don’t play enough. They don’t have enough contact time with the ball during the week and they are not exposed to enough game- like scenarios, which made it a bit harder to generate the same kind of pictures on a regular basis.

“So we are applying the competitive cauldron because we wanted the psychological side there, in terms of competing and having more intensity in training, but we wanted to couple that with tactical problems they need to solve related to the game.

“So we have coupled it alongside constraints-based learning, where we can create certain rules or restrictions around the game that relate to our style of play, or things we’re doing well or need to improve on during a game.”

SCW: How have your players responded?

CW: “What we noticed straight off the bat was the intensity and the competition levels were a lot higher.

“Everything now matters in training, and there is accountability for the players. If they don’t bring their all or try their hardest, they will soon find they slip down the ladder or the ranking system.

“Many of the players like the idea – they agree we need it to build that intensity and that friendly competition – but there’s also another small pocket that feel we need to be focusing more on the tactical side.

“It is just getting them used to that new idea where you can still coach tactical stuff but in a different kind of manner. We’ll see how it goes for the next couple of months.”

SCW: Is there a danger it becomes too individualistic? How do you foster a team environment using the competitive cauldron?

CW: “It can be a bit of a double-edged sword, because players may shoot when they should pass. You can manage the negative side of it because you can step in and give individual challenges, where we may constrain a player.

“But it can have a positive impact on, say, a player that may not be great in a one-on- one situation. It may encourage them to take a player on and score, or get an assist or create a scoring opportunity.”

Fred Wright’s Whyteleafe in training this week

SCW: Does the competitive cauldron show you which partnerships work well?

FW: “It definitely shows you who can work well together in different scenarios, because they are not on the same team every week.

 

“We noticed that the intensity and competition levels were a lot higher..”

 

We will look at different types of chemistry between players.

“There is a real abundance of challenges there, as well. At Whyteleafe, for example, we are dealing with adversity because we haven’t had a great start to the season.

“You can foster that within the competitive cauldron because you can put certain players, who may need that challenge of dealing with adversity, into a less strong team each week, and see how they react.”

SCW: And I suppose you can tweak how it works to fit your team and level of the game?

CW: “Definitely. For example, seeing the results can be overwhelming as a player if you are not used to that kind of pressure. But you can mask who is around them in terms of results, and just focus on where they are and what they need to improve on.

“You can manipulate it in any way you want for how it fits into your context. I’ve not tried it with the under-14s at Charlton that I work with. I think at the younger ages you want to lean towards using it as a fun tool, depending on what level you’re at.

“You may work at an elite academy where it’s really useful for you for certain metrics but if it’s grassroots, it may not be a tool that could benefit you at youth level because players probably haven’t psychologically matured enough to be able to deal with that type of pressure.”

SCW: And while there’s an element of competitive pressure there, there must be some good banter and friendly rivalries flying around in training?

CW: “Yes, definitely. We have only had a couple of weeks on it so we’ll see how it pans out, but I think there is a bit of fun to be had with it.

“For us, it’s just interesting to see the intensity change in training and the focus just completely change as well.”

 

“I think one of the beauties of the competitive cauldron is it can foster a good team chemistry in terms of building relationships…”

HEAR MORE FROM FRED WRIGHT, INCLUDING HIS THOUGHTS ON HOW THE US-INSPIRED TRAINING METHOD CAN HELP WITH TEAM BUILDING, ON OUR PODCAST — CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

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