Pathways Q & A with TOCA founder, Eddie Lewis

Player Pathways is a TOCA Member exclusive program. It is the latest evolution in our approach to personal soccer training. Simply put, it’s our plan for maximizing the results of your player’s one-on-one TOCA Training sessions. Built to adapt to every experience level and intended to be uniquely flexible for your schedule, Player Pathways is a progression roadmap to achieving your training goals.  Below is an interview with TOCA Canada President, Alexander Elliot. He describes how he helped co-found Player Pathways and why it is the next level in TOCA Training.

How was Pathways ideated?

Eddie: As it relates to TOCA, we have a very specific type of training. The technical and decision making components are involved in every session, and we wanted to continue to evolve the personalization of that training. Not only at the individual level but also in beginning to string those sessions together. That ultimately resulted in our new program: Pathways.The goal is to take a handful of specific areas and really spend the time on focused learning around those areas.

Can you talk about the research that went into establishing Pathways?

Eddie: In soccer, the word “curriculum” gets used a lot. TOCA has its processes which are close to a curriculum; however, we do feel it’s somewhat of a dated term in that it’s very directive. TOCA is a very player-centric methodology. We use a method called guided discovery. Instead of telling the player “we want you to guide the ball this way or touch the ball that way and pass here”, we set them up with Smart Targets and let them kind of figure it out. Then, we step in to help guide them with concrete principles on how to improve. So, instead of a directive approach that curriculums tend to come with, we wanted to use a much more modern, guided discovery approach in player development. Similar to the approach that both professional teams here in the United States use at the academy level as well as newer, more modern best practices from clubs abroad as well. 

How is Pathways different from standard TOCA Training?

Eddie: TOCA Training is very much session by session driven. We felt that oftentimes our best trainers were creating these plans for players over a period of time anyway. But, in other cases some of the sessions looked like they weren’t necessarily connected to each other. We wanted to solve for the classic problem of “ Hey last week this happened in game, so we want to work on this”. Instead, now [through Pathways] we are looking at the big picture and saying “Let’s look over the next six sessions…Here’s what we think we can accomplish, here are areas important for your son or daughter to be working on. If we stick to the Pathway here’s the expected results we think we can achieve”. In my eyes, that’s a much more progressive mindset from a training standpoint.

Who is Pathways for?

Eddie: We have a number of different Pathways that are available and that will continue to evolve as we get going. But, I think the important thing to understand is that every player at every level has some form of strength or weakness. We’ll use a very young player for example; we’re going to spend much more time in a well-rounded general skill development Pathway. As players get older, and their positions become more defined, we’d really like to spend the time continuing to strengthen their strengths. Essentially as they get older, it becomes slightly more position specific versus at the younger levels, we are taking a broader more well-rounded approach to their skill set. 

Can you talk about your personal journey as a professional player and what you applied to Pathways?

Eddie: For me, it really was born out of some of my own personal frustrations as a player. I always felt that I could see things that were happening within a game, but my technical ability wouldn’t allow me to execute them in certain areas. It was a question of: “technically can I get you the ball where you want it so you don’t have to think about it that much?” By doing so, it allows you to lift your head and really focus on the game and the players moving around you. It wasn’t this sort of “Aha!” moment. It was more that as my technical ability got better, it opened me up to seeing the game better. The game almost slowed down. I was able to play in a much more consistent fashion. You could see the players around you that weren’t doing it and you could see the players that were. It was always strange to me that a player is known as someone that has good awareness or they don’t. I didn’t believe that was a thing. There are players that are really good on the ball, they play with their head up, and then other players who don’t do that. So, I became enamored with this idea of awareness and if there was a way to actually train it. It wasn’t just this magical ability that some players have. That’s always been the holy grail, the technical ability combined with the awareness. It takes a lot of the physical attributes out of it. If you look at the world of football, one of the most beautiful things about it is that it doesn’t discriminate from a physical standpoint. You look at the Spanish National Team, they aren’t the best athletes in the world, but they’re phenomenal at football. The brain is one of the best kept secrets when it comes to training for football…and our new Pathways curriculum gives us the first step into taking on that challenge.

How does technology fit into Pathways?

Eddie: Along with our Smart Targets, we developed a player portal. What that does is allow us to take all the information from training sessions and begin to share some of the progress that’s being made. Some of it is just tracking repetitions or how many balls you’ve received and other progress related data. Say from a turning exercise, we can track a player’s increase in speed of play from when you start with the Pathway. It’s not only a measure of progress, but it’s educational in a sense that we’re helping understand what’s important and why.

Anything else you would like people to know about Pathways?

Eddie: From our perspective, it’s a matter of always looking to improve our process and training. We want to make sure the trainers are delivering consistent training that both parties can benefit from in the long term. We want to offer more specific training that is driven by results. Quantifying that progress allows the player to see tangible results. It’s also important that the right players are working on the right things at the right time. 

Player Pathways Q & A with TOCA Canada President, Alexander Elliott

Player Pathways is a TOCA Member exclusive program. It is the latest evolution in our approach to personal soccer training. Simply put, it’s our plan for maximizing the results of your player’s one-on-one TOCA Training sessions. Built to adapt to every experience level and intended to be uniquely flexible for your schedule, Player Pathways is a progression roadmap to achieving your training goals.  Below is an interview with TOCA Canada President, Alexander Elliott. He describes how he helped co-found Player Pathways and why it is the next level in TOCA Training.

How and why was Pathways created ?

Alex: First off in starting this journey of creating Pathways, we consulted with a lot of outside professionals in different countries. We wanted to get a feel of what it was like 10 years ago when guys like Eddie and I were playing, what is out there today with different clubs and different set-ups. Whether it’s online platforms or structured MLS clubs, European clubs, youth clubs— just to get a sense of how Pathways and frameworks are being done right.

Throughout our multiple centers, we’ve got thousands of members that come to us on a weekly basis. Our desire to support them with their short term and long term development is extremely important to us, we care deeply about it. Every trainer at TOCA is supporting their members and their guests in creating the best Pathway to success for that athlete. What we wanted to do was take it one step further. To create Pathways that the guests could see in a player portal and have a structure in mind that plans out their next 6 sessions. The reason why we picked a 6 session repeating Pathway is that when looking at some of the best curriculum and methodology frameworks in world football, it repeats in 6 week patterns. So for us in that same model, it allows for consistency that the player can benefit from developmentally but also has enough variation that it stays extremely fun and entertaining. The whole Pathway model was born out of the desire to support our athletes in finding their best.

How does technology play a role in Player Pathways?

Alex: Let’s select the Game Awareness Pathway as the example. If an athlete is maybe struggling in-game to make the right decisions, as trainers we can suggest the Game Awareness Pathway. That means there are 12 pre-selected focuses that fit Game Awareness. That could be passing, receiving, could be some finishing, but everything that is in it — is going to revolve around your ability to make the right decisions at the right times and going through a variation of technical focuses that are game relevant. So with that, once a guest selects a particular Pathway, they are locked into that for 6 weeks and have access to a player portal. They can track their progress and see how they are performing each step of the way. They’ll see their repetitions, their goals and the more they do that Pathway, the more they’re going to see their progression. They’re going to benefit from seeing those small little successes throughout their journey with TOCA and build on their Pathways as they go. Thus becoming a better player.

What is the difference between Player Pathways & standard TOCA Training?

Alex: Typical TOCA training for non members right now is essentially floating from session to session. Let’s say an athlete has a game over the weekend, they didn’t score the goals they wanted to score. Of course that coming week they’re going to want to come in and work on finishing. Then the following week it’s “Oh I’m a striker and I have my back to goal a lot but I couldn’t connect my little passes in the midfield.” So you’re going to think “ Let’s work on passing!” or redirecting or lay-offs. The goal here is to support the athlete in a broader way. We want to look long term and support them so they can get to the goal — and that takes Pathways to do it. The biggest difference is supporting the guest in planning a longer frame so we can support them in finding their best. Not only will the guest bounce from session to session but so will the trainer. Now, we can hold both parties accountable. So when a guest comes in and says “Hey we want to work on heading today”…yes we want to service that request, but we want to cover all bases and make sure they’re well rounded. Of course we’ll work on heading, but we want to stick to the Pathway and plan. So it keeps both sides accountable. 

Can you offer any insight from your journey as a professional player that inspired Player Pathways?

Alex: My journey growing up in Canada, and really anywhere in North America 10 years ago, was a little less structured than today in terms of long term development. A real eye-opener for me came when I was 20 years old and able to sign with a club in Germany within the Bundesliga called Meinz 05. Juergen Koop (current Liverpool Manager) was the trainer. He went to Dortmund the year I signed, then Thomas Tuchel (Current PSG trainer) took over. Being around trainers like that, who built a real strong foundation for player development was incredible. They were known for building young players that came through their system; it was an eye-opener for me. I was a young Canadian and I was very fortunate that I got to play with these players. Guys like Andre Shurrle (World Cup Champion), he was an example of a player that was 3 years younger than me and I thought “ Wow that’s a player right there” knowing that he was going to leap-frog me, very quickly. You can see the development that he’s gone through. I was at that club for two years and to be totally honest that was the beginning of my coaching career. It really led me down the path of wanting to understand how these players were developed. It was frightening to see, not just technically, but from a game awareness standpoint how sound these German players were by the time they got to my age at 20.

We tend to focus so much on technical ability, which is the right thing to do, but the technical ability has to match the game awareness. Or else you start to become a street soccer player vs a footballer.  So the connection needs to be there at all times. We need to always connect the technical ability with the awareness; they never live separate. That’s the one fundamental difference with TOCA training and even more so with Pathways, we can combine both in an individual setting.

Who is Pathways for?

Alex: Pathways is for any aspiring soccer player that feels they can find more out of their game. It can be a 25 or 35 year old and it can also be a 6 year old. It’s as vast as the guest’s imagination and their wanting to improve. And if they think they can be better, then we should be getting them to a Pathway vs a non member just floating from session to session. There’s no doubt in our minds that we can better support their development if we have a plan in place that both parties are bought into. Ultimately it becomes more exciting by creating something we’ve both bought into, then commit to it. It becomes that much more satisfying. 

It’s important that we give the athletes the ability to self-reflect by rounding out their game. It’s so vital as athletes that we’re honest with ourselves. It also enables our trainers to become mentors and support our journey because they can see the data as well.

Anything else you’d like people to know about Pathways?

Alex: This isn’t entirely a TOCA inside job. We’ve really gone outside of the scope of what our knowledge is at TOCA. It’s not just myself and Eddie’s knowledge, there’s a lot of pieces to it. This is a long project. We have the most diverse, flexible Pathway platform for any kind of athlete that walks through our door. It’s not just about TOCA’s methodology, it’s about utilizing the best practices of football worldwide and combining the technical with game awareness abilities that our technology provides. Then rolling it out through a platform that supports our guests.