One of the beautiful elements of soccer is the fact that once the players step onto the field, their decisions are their own and it is up to them to find the solutions to the problems in front of them. Soccer is very much a player-centric sport where the majority of decisions are made on the field by the players. This is opposed to the coach-centric sports in the U.S. where the coach plays a far greater role during the game (check out my piece on the Role of the Coach here). As such, it is vital that we teach players to make decision's and base them on as much information as possible.

The Players Decisions

There are a number of things players can do in order to make good decisions on the field:

  • Playing with your eyes up. Scanning the field for options, having an open body shape, checking your shoulder etc. all allow you to know what's going on around you.
  • Use other senses - feel for the defender to know where they are, communicate with teammates to give them information they need (e.g. "Man On", "Turn").
  • Learn and understand player roles/movement on the field - if a player recognizes a striker is checking away to come deep for the ball, then this may help them decide to pass to them or use the space they create in some way.

The Coaches Role

As coaches, we can also help players make decisions and it is our job to do so whilst on the training ground. Once they're out on the field, it becomes a lot harder to have an influence and help players with this process. As a result, it is important for coaches to:

  • Work on decision making. The Where, When, Why on the field (there's a piece on that too... here).
  • Put players in scenarios that need to be solved.
  • Give them solutions and teach them When and Why.
  • Let them find their own solutions.

'If This, Then That'

In the following activity, players are put in game situations where they're trying to progress upfield so that they can get to goal. The session focuses on a few scenarios and solutions, teaching the When and Why using the following statement: 'If This, Then That'.

 Player A starts with the ball. He takes a touch out of his feet and is tasked with finding Player C. Player B and Player C check away to try and receive the ball while Player D must try and defend.

Player A starts with the ball. He takes a touch out of his feet and is tasked with finding Player C. Player B and Player C check away to try and receive the ball while Player D must try and defend.

In the above example the defender follows and marks Player B, leaving Player C open. If the defender stays tight with Player B, Then Player A is able to bypass Player B and play to Player C.

 Player A starts with the ball. He takes a touch out of his feet and is tasked with finding Player C. Player B and Player C check away to try and receive the ball while Player D must try and defend.

Player A starts with the ball. He takes a touch out of his feet and is tasked with finding Player C. Player B and Player C check away to try and receive the ball while Player D must try and defend.

In the second scenario, the defender wises up and prevents the penetrating pass to Player C. If the defender prevents the penetrating pass to Player C, Then Player A finds Player B, who can open up and find Player C.

Despite being a rather simplified version, Player A is tasked with making a decision based on his teammates movement off the ball and the position/pressure of the defender. The player is given two scenarios: 'If This, Then That' OR 'If This, Then That'. 

Let Them Figure It Out

Now that the players have a few ideas, it's important to let them try things and figure it out for themselves. 

  In the game above, three channels take it in turns to go to goal. The second it breaks down, the next group goes. 

In the game above, three channels take it in turns to go to goal. The second it breaks down, the next group goes. 

Players A and B must find a way to find the target player (C) and then go to goal. This is a great opportunity for players to come up with their own solutions and get creative. The coach can step back for a while and see what they come up with and might only jump in on breakdowns depending on the success the groups are having.

End Product

Once players understand the 'If This, Then That' concept, it is up to the coach to ensure that they can spot these moments (which brings us back to the players decisions). The coach has put the players in the environment, given them ideas and is allowing them to make their own choices. Now the coach can look at the players decisions and what information they're using to make them.

  • Does Player C know his role and that he has to move to find an angle to receive it?
  • Is Player B checking his shoulder and/or feeling for the defender so that he knows where they are/what the picture is behind him?
  • Is Player A taking a touch out and getting his head up to make that initial decision of where to pass it?

Players must be able to do the above in order to make informed decisions. It is only then that they can recognize the If moments and pick the appropriate Then action.

Coaches: thoughts, comments and retweets are always appreciated.  

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