The Velocity of Skill Development: How Brazil Develops Football Players

Brazil figured out how to rapidly increase the velocity of skill development in its football players and it’s not what you think.

Not all skills are developed in the same way — developing soft-skills is different than developing hard skills.

It’s impossible to directly teach someone to improvise their way to a brilliant goal in hockey or soccer. The world does not work that way.

Part of the problem is time-based.

It’s hard to get the quantity of repetitions you need for feedback with the variety of situations you need to develop improvisation.

Traditionally coaches practice the most common situations. You can’t practice every possible scenario that you might face in a game because time is limited. So it makes sense that coaches focus on the most common situations that a player will face. Players get feedback from coaches on these situations and generally get better. The pace of these practices means that players will only get feedback on their decisions in a limited number of situations.

There is another way.

The Velocity of Skill Development

You can tinker with the environment to force people to make faster decisions, increase the number of repetitions, and force a velocity that increases the variety or situations a player can practice.

This is what Brazil does differently.

In The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle writes:

Soft skills are built by playing and exploring inside challenging, ever-changing environments.

Brazil is the home of many of the world’s most skilled soccer players. So you might wonder how it develops its players? They use a game called futebol de salão:

This insanely fast, tightly compressed five-on-five version of the game— played on a field the size of a basketball court— creates 600 percent more touches, demands instant pattern recognition and, in the words of Emilio Miranda, a professor of soccer at the University of São Paulo, serves as Brazil’s “laboratory of improvisation.”

Lionel Messi, an Argentine football star, can’t plan where everyone on the field will be and how they will all react — he has to improvise by recognising patterns and responding.

When developing a soft skill you want three things: 1) variety; 2) reps; and 3) feedback.

Futebol de salão is designed to encourage skill development.


Still curious? Discover how to practice; an effective way to learn new things and identify holes in your knowledge; and why some people are so much more effective at learning from their mistakes.