The tactical game is considered the what, where, and when of the game. For example, I will pass to my center-midfielder for a give and go near the mid-line as I draw the defender closer. Our decisions in the game are based upon specific information that we are continuously gathering as the game progresses. In order to gain such information, there are two critical questions that players must ask:
The answer to this is our basic skills like dribble, pass, shoot, and tackle, delay, clear it, etc. I like to call this our vocabulary of soccer skills, which can be organized as 1) options when in possession of the ball versus 2) options when not in possession. As a coach, you are the player’s most valuable asset in learning a complete soccer vocabulary, which means staying up-to-date with developments in the physical, technical, and tactical areas of the game.
What we are taught as players is the fuel that drives ours decision.
In essence, we tend to limit ourselves based upon what we know is possible. Since soccer is a highly subjective game it is essential that players are taught that the limits are far-reaching and they will not be punished for making a mistake or made to feel less worthy if they tried, but failed.
Furthermore, players who master their skills and build a larger soccer vocabulary can shift their focus from technical execution to more complex decision making, i.e. rather than focus on locking your ankle for a power shot, you can teach players to focus on timing of their shot. Once this shift occurs, players are ready for the next important question of the tactical game:
2) What do I need to know in order to make the best decision?
A player must assess their surroundings and answer questions like, where am I on the field, where are my teammates and the opponents, what is the score, how much time is left, who am I up against, etc. Such questions must be answered quickly and continuously throughout the length of the game. Any hesitation or lingering thoughts can result in slower execution.
As a coach it is important to be clear of your style of play so that your players have an idea of what you are looking for in various situation. For example, if your team likes to play out of the back, your outside defender will look for an outlet pass when pressure is approaching as opposed to kicking a long ball. This does not mean that a short pass is always the right decision, however it provides a starting point for players to make their own game-time decision.
Finally, it is not a surprise that players with good mental control are better able to make quick and effective decision. In order to process the plethora of information from the environment and make an educated choice within seconds, players must be present and play with instinct.
Stay tuned for the Part 3 and learn how to build a player’s instinct!