The speed of your decision making as a soccer player is paramount to your success as a player. When coaching players, years ago, I would ask them, “what’s your connection to the game right now?” or “what is the game asking of you this moment?”. As the game has progressed, I know to ask a better, more applicable question, “What is the game asking of you in the coming moments?” As a player, your physical speed, touch on the ball, and agility is very important, however, the speed in which you see your options and decide your actions is almost more important.
Think about the following quote:
“Most players I came across were quicker and stronger than me. Decision-making is what controls our physical actions. Some players have a mental top speed of 80 while others are capable of reaching 200, I always tried to reach 200.” – Xavi Hernandes – Spanish professional footballer
Ultimately, imagination and the speed of thought/decision-making is the most important quality that any player can possess. What can you do to improve your speed of soccer decisions?
First, show up to your practices, and games with the intention to improve your speed of soccer thought. Intentional practice is all about having the proper mindset. Do not just show up to train. Intention is not about just working hard; it’s about going to each practice with purpose, goals, and objectives to increase the rate at which you see and play the game.
Anticipation, Recognition, Reaction
Focus your intentions on the following three areas: 1) Anticipation 2) Recognition 3) Reaction.
Understanding how you and your teammates play, and your ability to read and play the game tactically. Develop intention in every practice and game to focus on the trajectory of the ball before it is going to be played. Focus on your body language. This shows if your brain is active and engaged. A great tool that I love to pass on to players is given by English sports Psychologist, Dan Abrahams: “When footballers stay ‘on their toes’ they stay focused, alert and ready…they stay alive, responsive and ready. They are proactive”.
“Being proactive = faster Anticipation!” Dan gives a simple yet infectious technique he calls BAMMING. “To BAM is simple – it stands for: Body; Action; Move”.
He further preaches, “I like players to keep their body language positive at all times. I like them to constantly look for an action to execute. And I like them to keep on the move as much as possible. Picture that now – players maintaining incredible body language as they compete. Their 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”.
The Golden rule in recognition is “keep your head on a swivel!” In other words, develop the habit to continually scan the entire field. Know what’s happening away from the ball. What is happening behind, in front, and in your peripheral vision? As you do this ask yourself questions relative to where you are within the game. Constantly determine where your teammates and opponents are. Where pressure is pressure, space, and time. Where are threats, and where is safety. Is this an opportunity? Does my teammate have a better opportunity?
Reaction is where steps one and two come together. Time equals space and space equals quality. The faster your Anticipation and Recognition are, the better your soccer decision-making is, and the better your reaction and technical/tactical execution will be.
Developing creative ways to add challenges to your training
Players and coaches can add creative challenges in practices that develop disabilities that will require you to stretch and adapt your speed of decision-making. Here a are few examples:
- Where an eye patch. This will force you to expand your range vision and head swiveling technic.
- Tie your hands loosely behind your back. This will decrease your physical speed, balance and agility yet forces you to increase speed of thought on and off the ball.
- When you play small or large sided games have each team where two colors of pennies/bibs. This will cause confusion and amplify anticipation, recognition, and reaction.
- When you play small or large sided games, have each team/all players wear the same color. This will cause even deeper confusion and amplify your anticipation, recognition, and reaction.
Taking the time to focus on your speed of decision making, having intention in practice and creating situations to improve your decision making will help increase your tactical abilities in the game.
Good luck, and all the best, on the field and off!
“Be a Quick Thinking Soccer Player” Dan Abrahams, Sports Psychologist (HCPC)