Soccer is an extremely dynamic game that involves continuous decision-making both on and off the ball. Although decisions are determined by our tactical knowledge of the game, quick and effective decision-making requires skills of mental control and agility.
Tactical knowledge is acquired through watching the game, playing the game, and learning the particular style of your coach. There are many formations, systems, and styles of play that a coach may utilize, which is why it is very important to be clear as to what you expect from your athletes in each environment (team) that you may coach. For example, I want my outside midfielders to dribble to the end line and driving a cross to the top of the box.
Knowing what to do and when to do it is best learned through experience, however players can also be taught how to make the most effective decisions at a quicker pace by acknowledging mental barriers. Thoughts like, ‘What should I do?’ (confusion), ‘What if I mess up?’ (anxious), or ‘I made the wrong decision’ (disappointed) are commonly reported in relation to decision making, which a coach can help to eliminate. In fact these self-talk phrases are present in even the strongest players on the field and must be controlled and altered in order to see players making quick and effective decisions.
The ways in which you can coach players will be dependent upon age and development. As the game goes up in level, so do the types and frequency of decisions during the course of a game. Additionally, the importance – or value – placed on each decision is perceived to be of greater intensity. Some players can adjust accordingly as they develop while many others experience an increase in stress.
As a coach you can help develop the tactical skills of your players by acknowledging potential mental barriers and providing a chance to develop mental skills during training sessions.