The Next Play: Improving Soccer Decision Making
Spanish pro footballer Xavi Hernandez has always aimed to make decisions faster. After all, agility, physical speed, and touch on the ball only take a player so far. The speed with which you can see your options and decide what to do next can be a huge differentiator.
“Decision-making is what controls our physical actions,” Hernandez has said. “Some players have a mental top speed of 80 while others are capable of reaching 200, I always tried to reach 200.”
How can young athletes strive to reach 200 too? These five suggestions can help.
#1 Practice intentionally. This isn’t just showing up to required trainings and running around with the ball between joking with friends on the team. Instead, you would approach each training opportunity intending to:
• Understand the purpose of the drills
• Progress on individual goals and objectives
• Increase your overall view of the momentum of the game.
#2 Play “on your toes.” Maybe you’ve heard this phrase before. But what does it mean? Focus your body language on being alert and proactive. This means looking for openings and pass angles, always being on the move. Constantly seek opportunities while also trying to understand how your opponents are tactically approaching the game.
“[The proactive player’s] eyes are scanning the pitch and their thoughts are focused on the next action, the next play. To add to this they are on their toes – alert, alive and ready. They are always looking to move and always ready to move.” — Dan Abrahams, English sports psychologist.
#3 Look around you. This one sounds obvious. If you’re not looking around chances are you’re going to run over someone or get in the way of a teammate’s play. Nevertheless, you want to look around you at all angles, all of the time. It’s about gaining awareness of what is happening not only in front of you, but also in your periphery and behind you. Be aware also of what is happening off of the ball — with your team and the opposition. The wider your lens for looking at the game, the better able to function under pressure you’re going to be as you’ll know who has space, time, and opportunity.
#4 Get creative. We do Rondo as a way to help you learn to read the game and gain a more holistic view of the field and your teammates. But, don’t be surprised if some of your QC Mutiny coaches try some of these new ways to stretch game awareness — no matter how silly they may seem:
• Practice wearing an eye patch to force yourself to extend vision.
• Scrimmage without using different colors to identify teams. This makes players work harder to recognize teammates and react quickly under pressure.
• Run small-sided drills with each team wearing two different color bibs. As above, when everyone was in one color, this puts four colors on the field, which again can help build anticipatory skills.
#5 Learn from experience. Watch how more experienced players move the ball and make plays. Ask them to share their knowledge of the game, both good decisions and poor ones. You can watch other players on the field, on videos, and in live streaming of games.
“There are an infinite number of different situations within any one game and each situation is different than the one before. During the game players must perceive the situation and then select what they believe is the correct decision, and then execute.” — Arsene Wenger, Head Coach of Arsenal FC
Coaching aims to prepare you for the non-stop (mostly) play of soccer. Unlike American football or basketball, for instance, you can seldom stop the clock and run to the sidelines for a powwow about the next best play. Once the ref blows the whistle to start the game, it’s up to the players to make the right decisions in the moment. These strategies can help, but nothing beats getting out there and practicing, playing, and practicing some more. See you on the pitch!
Abrahams, D. Body Action Move – A Technique for Consistent Soccer
Biggs, L. Soccer Coaches: Develop Decision Making in the Early Years.
Macdonald, P. Soccer Secrets to Better Decision Making.
Steamboat Soccer Academy. Speed of Decisions in Soccer: How to Develop Faster Vision and Decide What to Do Next.