The game of football is in a continuous process of evolution as the physical demands of the sport continue to level up.
Football players are being transformed into athletes who can resist at the highest tiers of the game. Teams are also taking notice of this upgrade as they start to invest heavily in technical and medical staff to fine-tune their players.
With every minimum detail playing a critical role in deciding a team’s fate, thinking outside the box can often determine in a positive way.
Belgian coach Michel Bruyninckx – who is also a teacher and scientist – takes centre stage in unorthodox learning in football.
He is a worldwide leader in brain centred learning based on cognitive neurology, neuropsychology and neurobiology in sports.
In fact, Bruyninckx is the inventor of the Brain Centred Training methods, with CogiTraining and SenseBall being his blueprint.
His research and experience in the field have allowed him to devise this method which combines football training with neurological exercises to enhance an athlete’s cognitive development while improving his skills on the field.
In collaboration with Sports Pro Management and Consultancy, coach Bruyninckx spoke with The Sunday Times of Malta to describe his methodology, under the name of MBM method, that highlights intelligence as the fulcrum in modern football.
MBM are striving to become a leader in sports and school excellence through their methodology.
“CogiTraining and SenseBall was the first part of this methodology and now we call it MBM,” Bruyninckx said.
“In this area, studies show that the front cortex is a crucial part to a human being because it is implicated in planning cognitive behaviour, expression, decision-making and social behaviour.
“In fact, what we teach our coaches is that everything has to do with the brain and that is the initial step to make people understand the value of MBM.”
Bruyninckx explained that the progress of science meant that the brain is a network process and that means he and his team had to develop their methodology.
“Through MBM, we are now bringing all scientific fields together and not concentrating on just one,” he said.
According to Bruyninckx, this is a learning method that can be beneficial even in schools as he believes that through football, other sports or more moving activity in the classroom, mental framework can help students being empowered in school.
“MBM is about thinking outside the box and going into the brain,” the Belgian coach explained.
“Nowadays, we speak about Artificial Intelligence, but we underestimate the brain’s power – the human brain has cognitive and emotion intelligence which are essential.”
MBM’s goals are to help speed up the connection between body and brain which enables them to fulfil the players’ potential at individual and collective level.
Challenging the brain with different movement patterns, movement with attention, cognitive elements and randomised set-ups is essential in this development process.”
CogiTraining and SenseBall were developed by Bruyninckx during his contribution at the University of Lovain between 2001 and 2011.
“At that time, Belgian football was going through a rough patch and the government had decided to do a reshuffle in all sports, including football,” the Belgian said.
“An academy of the Belgian Football Federation was set up at Lovain and I was invited to help there, taking a different approach in tackling the problems.
“Me and my staff decided to look at the problem in an opposite way, therefore applying the scientific method which is motor learning as through our analysis we identified that Belgian football was more physical rather than technical.”
Ajax was the source of inspiration for Bruyninckx as he saw their players train with a bouncing ball (SoccerPal) that helped the players to touch the ball more often and with both feet.
“When we applied such method adding rhythmic cueing (SoccerPal on music) at Lovain, we noticed the progress of the players in a very short time,” he said.
“Interestingly, I always had the players that were not considered highly-skilled, but they often progressed at the highest levels of the game, including Dries Mertens.”
Mertens is just one of the high-profile players whom Bruyninckx mentored. Besides the Napoli forward, there are also Steven Defour (formerly of Porto and Burnley), Omar El Kaddouri, who was on the books of Napoli and Torino among others, and ex-Belgian international Faris Haroun.
Bruyninckx points out three pillars that come into play in his way of training – attention, concentration, and orientation while believing that the more a person is active while he is learning, the more he will consolidate.
“Active engagement is crucial, and it is important that we let human beings make mistakes to learn from them – at MBM we believe in teaching through activation,” he underlined.
Former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho and Aldo Dolcetti, ex-technical director at Milan and Juventus, are among Bruyninckx’s admirers having invited him at the Blancos and the Rossoneri to show his ideas.
“My method can be applied both at grassroots and senior level, but obviously it differs due to the environment,” Bruyninckx pointed out.
“In senior football, there is a lot of focus on competition performance where teams strive to win therefore the training schedule are planned according to their fixtures.
“In fact, I believe that MBM training can be very helpful during pre-season for example where you are more flexible with your training plans as there are no competitive games.”
Asked about whether such method could be applied to a footballing reality like Malta, Bruyninckx said that the most important thing is that the community embraces this way of learning.
“In order to impose this method, it is imperative that all coaches welcome this idea so that everyone is on the same page,” he explained.
“At the same time, it is important to experience a typical life in Malta because otherwise it would be too simple to arrive and announce that I have the perfect solution – it does not work like that.
“I’ve been in several countries from Belarus to Qatar, to China and I always had to adapt according to the culture in order to get the best out of MBM training.
“Ultimately, we don’t come in this world with organised talent, but we are all born with a potential.”