Improve Your Soccer Intelligence
By David Carmichael
The world's smartest and most creative soccer players read the game and play ahead of their opponents. They possess excellent soccer intelligence, which allows them to predict how and where a play will unfold. They stay one step ahead of their opponents to attack weaknesses and set up effective scoring opportunities or defensive plays.
Spatial awareness allows you to play with your head up, keep control of the ball and have a mental map of the game around you. You can constantly scan the field to assess the position of players, giving you more time to make a smart decision or be a step ahead of the play.
Spatial awareness allows players who aren't super athletes to compete with faster and stronger players. For example, Ryan Giggs of Manchester United has slowed down with age, but he still performs consistently at a high level thanks to his spatial awareness.
These are the mental skills that affect spatial awareness.
Soccer players must identify the most important information in a particular game situation and then coordinate their next movements. This allows them to find weaknesses in the opposition and exploit them. To do this, you must be able to discern where your opponents and teammates are on the field without too much thought. It should be second nature.
The mental capacity to imagine a particular situation or play from different perspectives is critical. You can anticipate the path of the ball and set up a play based on the position of your teammates and opponents.
Peripheral vision lets you see teammates or opponents outside of your direct line of sight. Improving your peripheral vision allows you to see players and movement further from center while still maintaining your focus on the ball or play. You can make “no-look passes” or evade an attacking defender from the side or behind. (Improve your peripheral vision with this drill.)
Improving Spatial Awareness
- Always keep your head up
- Scan the field before receiving the ball
- Develop your technical ability, first touch and ball control
- Watch more soccer and take notes on players with excellent spatial awareness skills
- Play 1 vs. 1 and 2 vs. 2 while observing the body movements of the defensive players
- Limit playing space to force quicker play in tight areas
- Play and pass with limited touches (1 or 2 touches)
- Always practice by setting up game-like scenarios and working on your total field peripheral vision, imagination and special intelligence
How do you define soccer intelligence?
BY WAYNE HARRISON
I call it Soccer Awareness
1. This is the “thinking” part of the game. The game starts in the head of the player and we as coaches must guide the players to think more quickly and with better accuracy in decision making.
Therefore soccer intelligence is based around players being able to identify their options BEFORE they receive the ball; and pick out the best option of hopefully several available to advance it; and maintain possession of it in the next phase of play.
- Another VITAL part of developing soccer intelligence in a player is the “Coaching Methodology” a coach uses.
You will never know how much a player understands until you ask them.
How often does your coach ask the players questions in training, how often do they ask the players to “decide themselves” where would be a better position to stand, what would be a better pass to make, where would it be best to dribble, where would it be best to play one touch; and then have the player SHOW the coach through their own movement and decision making?
How many times do you see a coach tell the player to do this, do that, go here; go there?
The player does it but doesn’t necessarily understand it; they did it because the coach told them to. So with this current and prevalent style of coaching how does the player learn soccer intelligence for themselves when they are being told what to do all the time and not allowed to think for themselves? EXACTLY, they DON’T.
So from this my directive would be from the earliest age possible the coach should engage the players in conversation about the game, get their opinion, the coach doesn’t ram their opinion down the players throats, after a minute are the players listening anyway?
Half time team talk, have the players run it, yes even at U8. Ask them questions don’t tell them everything that happened unless they clearly do not understand for themselves and need the help.
In time you will see they are thinking for themselves; identifying situations that happened in the first half that they did well, that can improve on. Of course the coach must offer advice also, but mix it up so everyone has a chance to add constructive information.
From this you would find the players begin to talk more on the field of play which is a serious problem in youth soccer in the USA where players play and hardly say anything.
They should ALL be communicating on the field which means less need for the coach to offer direction, and therefore offer direction sparingly when they really need it.
So start this process as early as possible.
I recently watched a team practice and hardly heard a player speak on the field. They wait until the coach tells them what to do, this is wrong but has developed because they have not been taught / guided correctly to think for themselves; from U8 and onwards and allowed / encouraged to develop their “own” soccer intelligence.
We can fix this at U8 and every year beyond if the coaching methodology of “question and answer” and “guided discovery” is used as opposed to the traditional “COMMAND” style that is out of date; though can still be used when needed; but sparingly rather than as the norm.
Why is it Important?
Without soccer intelligence a player cannot assess situations quickly enough through thinking and movement and therefore cannot maintain possession of the ball especially in pressure situations that occur every second on the field of play.
How Does Soccer Intelligence gives players and teams a winning advantage?
Players assessing the game more quickly cerebrally than then opponents can play faster and think faster and make better decisions through identifying the best options as early as possible than opponents; and hence be one step ahead of them.
In player development is soccer intelligence the most important? Where does it fit in with tactical and technical development?
I would say it is the key to being a great soccer player. It is the SKILL FACTOR in player development, the when, where, how and why of technical development in terms of decision making. I will explain more and in greater detail below.
At what age should soccer intelligence training start?
It depends on the player. Some can start at 7 years old some might not be able to grasp it until 10 years old. Generally speaking the earlier the better; introducing very simple decision making training at 7 or 8 years.
Development of technique with closed skill training is the most important at these ages, repetition of the same things without too much thought; so they are capable of making successful dribbles and turns and passes without pressure and then introducing decision making to see if the players know where, where, how and why to make that pass, that dribble that turn and so on with pressure included.
How young is too young and why?
As I said it depends on the player. How do you train soccer intelligence?
By systematically training, the players can understand with an awareness training model.
For example creating situations in training where the player MUST look around before they receive the ball, and so setting “conditions of training” to ensure this happens.
Simply put it goes like this and in this order:
- Observe where the ball is coming from
- Observe how it is coming? In the air; on the ground; and position accordingly
- Know where “teammates” are before receiving the ball
- Know where “opponents” are before receiving the ball
- Know where the “space” is to play into before receiving the ball
- Decide what to do with the ball before the ball arrives (one touch pass, two touch, dribble, run with it etc.)
- Observe “where” the ball is to be moved to (where is the free space for example)
- Decide “when” the ball has to be moved (quickly due to pressure or keep it as you have time)
- Decide how the ball needs to be moved (one touch pass, two touches, dribble, run with it etc.)
- Decide why that is the best option (compare all options with the teams tactical objectives in mind and pick the best one)
All this must be processed in the players mind BEFORE they get the ball.
I have created a “Continuums of Development Model” to identify what a player needs to do to develop soccer intelligence / awareness and it identifies all the component parts needed for a player to receive the ball and be successful in maintaining possession of it.
Therefore based on this above the Continuum looks like this:
All below done and worked out before receiving the ball:
- a) Look / Observe: what are my options?
- b) Body position: Open stance
- c) Feet preparation: not flat footed; but fleet of foot
- d) Communication: with your own eyes, vocally or from teammates
All done below after receiving the ball:
- e) Technique: the first touch; could be a controlling touch so 2 touches or more; or a one touch execution
- f) Skill: the when, where; how and why of the technique; the decision making process
- g) Mobility: Movement off the ball by the player and preparing for the next phase of play
- h) Transition: we lose possession we immediately tune into a defending mentality from an attacking mentality
To add, many players have the first part (the most important part), the look / observe assessment of options after e) and before f) when it should be at a) and be the first thing they do.
They don’t assess their options until they have received the ball and often this is too late and they lose possession.
Therefore the Look / Observe; if done before receiving the ball; actually may give them more “time” and offer three or four yards of space “in their head” or tell them they need to move it one touch because there is quick pressure on them.
How can parents help?
By learning more about the game, reading coaching books; by watching the top teams in the world on TV with their children, by going to live games with them when able. Even passing back and forth helping their kids develops their first touch or if they want throwing it to them as the first touch is a vital part of the player’s makeup.
I believe parent education of the game is vitally important to help them understand it more and they then can further understand even just the fundamentals of what we as the coaches / teachers are trying to develop with their children.
It might result in more questions for coaches to answer but coaches who know what they are doing will not or should not be afraid of that.
Is anyone really doing this today?
Good question, ask the coaches wherever your child plays to describe it; then you will know.
Please name a few professional players from clubs around the world who you think display soccer intelligence on the field today
Every professional player has soccer intelligence to a high level otherwise they could not play at the pace of the game today and be successful.
That said Paul Scholes of Manchester United has been the best in England, a great one touch player and interestingly enough whilst he hardly ever loses possession of the ball at the vast pace of the game today, he himself is not particularly quick of limb; but rather quick of MIND and has identified the game 3 moves ahead even before he gets the ball. He only needs half a touch he thinks so quickly J
Xavi; Buschets, Iniesta and Messi of Barcelona all completely different players who bring different qualities to soccer intelligence
Now there is another chapter for the future to explain all that!!
In essence, but not limited to: Buschets the set up player; one touch (especially good at awareness, possibly the best one touch player in the world), Xavi the link man, one and two touch, Iniesta the feeder player with quick passing and dribbling and Messi the finisher with EVERYTHING A PLAYER COULD EVER WISH FOR.
Game Intelligence - Soccer Elite Players Have It, How to Get It
By Dr. John Anderson
One of the classic myths about sport is that elite athletes are brawny hulks of muscle with poor intelligence and low IQ that have any strategic thinking processes sweated out of them at mindless training sessions. However new research has shown that elite soccer (football) players have superior 'game intelligence' that involves problem solving, making quick decisions, creativity, and developing strategies. In this article I discuss the concept of Game Intelligence and review the research that has been conducted in Soccer and other games. I will also examine how it is revolutionizing the training and selection of future soccer players.
- So what is game intelligence?
- Is it real?
- Do elite athletes have it?
- How is it developed?
- How can coaches develop it amongst their players?
- How do you test for it and find athletes that show potential for developing game intelligence?
- Does it apply in other games and sports?
So what is game intelligence? Is It Real? Do Elite Athletes have it?
Despite current attitudes, game intelligence is fundamental to the way players make decisions in sport, especially team games.
Game intelligence is an ability to rapidly process information, apply rules and strategies, and making sound independent on-field decisions.
In soccer, every position and every situation requires a specific type of intelligence - some of this is derived from experience, but some of it depends on innovation and creative abilities which are innate and can be developed.
The game intelligence skills needed by a goalkeeper are different from those required by a forward or central defender. Each position has a different set of problems to be resolved, but the mental skills and game intelligence capabilities are similar - they are simply applied in different ways.
The intelligence of a player, their experience, their physical ability and agility are the driving force for team success and individual performance. Quite often, two players with similar physical abilities and experience, will perform differently because of differences in being able to reading the game, and make quick and strategic decisions.
A good team player must be able to quickly adapt, change strategy, make good decisions for the right reasons and keep negative responses and outcomes to a minimum.
Game intelligence in sports, often referred to as executive functions, does not correlate with general IQ scores, but research has shown that successful soccer players have enhanced mental creativity and strategic decision-making. Success in ball-sports also depends on how information is processed and decisions made as well as technical skills.
This enhanced ability and performance relates to attributes such as pattern recognition, visual and mental anticipation and knowing what matters when faced with strategic decisions.
A group of European sports science researchers recently conducted a study to measure decision making abilities of a range of soccer players from various soccer divisions. The researchers measured game intelligence using a test procedure known as D-KEFS, which assesses skills in creativity, problem solving and rule making (see below for details).
The highest scores were achieved by players in the Sweden’s most elite soccer league, followed by players from a lower division. A group of people from the general public showed scores below both groups of soccer players.
The result for the Elite group of soccer players was in the top 2 % of the scores when compared with the general population.
This study has been published:
"Executive Functions Predict the Success of Top-Soccer Players"
As shown below the scores was significantly higher for Elite soccer players than those in standard grades. Soccer players scored higher than a group of subjects who were non-players.
This implies that the skills to do well at the test are improved by playing soccer, but it also implies that players are successful and reach the Elite teams because they have innate abilities which are developed through experience playing soccer. It would be interesting to compare the results for young people who play a lot of online games.
The executive functions are important as successful players must constantly re-assess the game situation and player positions, use past experiences for similar situations, create new possibilities, make quick decisions for actions, but also quickly eliminate bad decision options.
The researchers concluded that the process for selecting future stars should not only include assessment of physical capacity, ball control, stamina and general soccer skills and performance, but also assess executive functions using tests applied in this study.
AVERAGE SCORES FOR DESIGN FLUENCY TEST
How is it developed?
Executive function capability (game intelligence) is considered to develop throughout childhood and the teenage years, from about 3 year up to 19 years of age.
Each epoch of soccer training was characterized by certain fashions and trends. In the 50's and 60's when soccer coaching started, it was mostly focused on improving technical skills. In the 70's and 80's the focus was mostly on the physical conditioning of soccer players. Today there is a greater emphasis on mental abilities, strategic thinking and decision making as well. Part of this is experience, but it is something than can be learnt and certain players have more ability those others in game intelligence. Elite players get to be elite because they have developed these skills and it shows.
There is a need for systematic development of tactical awareness, decision making and thinking about the flow of the game from a very early age. This can be done during training by employing simplified games and drills to develop tactical experiences and decision making, with coaches providing feed-back and guidance. One method is to develop drills where players are exposed to simplified games such as 3 v 1 players, 2 v 1 players and 3 v 2 players. Each player has to face and resolve a series of problems to cope with these situations.
Skills such as good perception, looking at the big-picture are required for a correct assessment of the game situation and what to do. These skills can be taught and practiced, especially using game reviews and coaching videos.
How can coaches assess and develop it amongst their players?
Modern coaches must be prepared to modify their coaching style to stimulate game intelligence. To get more players on the pitch who can think for themselves, coaches need to stimulate more game intelligence and instruct less. Instead of being hands-on instructors on the soccer side-line, they should become guides, consultants, leaders and organizers of information and assessing the fostering strategic thinking.
To develop game intelligence in soccer players a coach should teach players to:
- Draw on past experiences (including videos) when face with a given situation to quickly and efficiently help players make strategic decisions. This involves teaching players what to look for and the signs of opportunities that the payers an exploit and develop
- Read the game and each situation to understand what is happening on the pitch which requires perception, experience, knowledge and the ability to recall past situations and their solutions
- Teach players that part of being an intelligent player is to anticipate how the situation is likely to develop and where it is heading. The ability to anticipate depends on good perception, the ability to visualize the situation and how various decisions will affect the outcome.
- Get players to realize that just like the technical skills, no player is born with an innate high-level of game intelligence in soccer, but many have the instincts and prerequisites to learn quickly. To develop their natural inherited potential fully, players must be prepared to undertake a varied range of activities and simplified games. Development of game intelligence is part of training similar to stamina and technical training.
How to test for the potential for developing game intelligence
The signs of game intelligence potential coaches should look for during games and coaching sessions are Players who
- are fast thinkers - generally choosing the best option quickly
- can quickly prioritize and rank all the various alternatives and assess their relative merits and risks - such players can recall the processes they used to make decisions during after-game analysis
- knows the limitations of their own abilities and those of the team so they choose the best option not the impossible one.
- are never rushed and appears confident and assured when conducting a particular move on the pitch. Such players take time to take in what's occurring and always appears to have time to make the best decision. Such players also now the dangers of rushing things - but how to exploit the situation with a split-second decision.
- always appears to balance risks, rewards and challenges so that the negative outcomes are minimized. The player is brave enough to take risks - go ALL IN, but not stupid enough to risk everything on unlikely moves.
- show that they can adapt to changing situations in the game.
- know that move may not always come off, but is self-confident enough to make many great decisions to offset a few mistakes that they recognize and take responsibilities for
- knows what he is going to do with the ball before even receiving it.
- uses his creativity, skill and strategy for the benefit of his teammates and team performance.
- knows how to move into open spaces to create opportunities.
- frequently asks questions and quickly adapts to the advice given and learns from mistakes.
- has the ability to memorize a large number of plays and can adapt them to he situation.
- has the self-confidence and ability not to let their game be affected by stress, but know how to use it to advantage. These players make good contributions in decisive matches and in stressful situations. Pressure and stress can nullify the usual intelligent play or some players.
In Search of Game Intelligence
By Horst Wein
When Johann Cruyff set about rebuilding the whole set up at Barcelona, using the Dutch blueprint he had grown up with at Ajax, inadvertently he was also reshaping the footballing philosophy of the whole nation. The link between the modern all-conquering Spanish tiki-taka and the Dutch total-football is too obvious not to notice.
Less noticeable is the German influence on the Spanish game. That comes through Horst Wein, a German "coach of coaches" whose work has influenced thousands of coaches and whose book "Developing Youth Football Players" is the official textbook of The Spanish Football Federation.
Wein is truly an impressive man. Not simply because of his CV - even though that contains working with some of the world's top clubs and federations as well as authoring 34 sports text books - but also because he talks the language of someone who has thought deeply about his work and come up with a level of insight that few can match.
"Who is the best coach in the world?" he asks before promptly replying "we have no doubt, it is the game of football itself". The message is very clear: coaches are there to facilitate and not act as the main actors.
It is not that he doesn't appreciate the value of coaches. “When you do what you have done always, you will never reach any further,” he says, underlining his belief in innovation.
His journey, however, didn't start on a football field but rather in hockey spurred by the questions of his young son.
How did you start formulating your theories?
When he was 7 years old my son (who 15 years later became World Champion) questioned my coaching even though at the time I was one of the leading hockey coaches. So, in order to answer his doubts, I became also interested in youth development.
You're a big proponent of making football fun. How do you achieve that and why is it so important?
Especially for kids initiating their career in football from the ages of 7-9, it is very important that they fall in love with the game. When this happens and football becomes their healthiest drug then they continue to play the game for a lifetime. Through my webpage www.thebeautifulgame.ie we offer a very unique game format, 3v3 on four goals called FUNino which will lead to play even at 8 or 9 years “The Beautiful Game” as the best teams of the world are demonstrating it. .
Similarly you say that the best coach in the world is the game of football itself: what do you mean by that?
In times gone by, Street Football helped to develop naturally skillful and creative players, simply because the games were simplified, with few players around and what’s important with no interference from any coach. I have studied the way kids play and then have captured the same essence and added some structure in the development of these games without the overuse of drills which is still very prominent in many football academies around the world. Instead of listening the players to the constant instructions, any academy coach should use guided discovery questions to encourage the kids to discover the problems inherent in the game in an interactive way.
What did street football teach children that have been lost today?
Street football was a natural environment for children to explore the game of football the natural way. Children played almost daily for many hours around the corner, they didn’t need any transport nor specific sport equipment, no registration at a federation which today treat all children like adults, who with their too complex competitions limit the natural development of our youth in football.
You were one of the first to argue in favour of small sided games for young children. Is it pleasing to see so many people now agreeing with you? And why is it so important?
Yes, thankfully the idea of small sided games (I prefer my term of simplified games) has become widespread in the last decades. However, I would personally still prefer if the competitions kids are asked to play world-wide were age-appropriate i.e. 3 v 3 for 7-9 years; 5 v 5 for 10 years; 7 v 7 for 11 and 12 years and 8 v 8 for 13 years, before, eventually playing 11 v 11 at 14 years of age. None of the FIFA member countries has yet applied an optimal structure for their youth competitions! So imagine if there would be countries which would implant my optimal, age-appropriate competitions (which as I said above are the best teacher) how much space there would be for improving the playing capacities.
A lot in youth development is still to be discovered by almost all football clubs in the world. Football will soon improve considerably as other ball games like hockey, volleyball and basketball have done. Football is still an undeveloped sport and far behind others, especially in developing young football players.
At what age should competitive leagues start?
Experiences have shown 12 years is about right, as the kids will probably demand that.
Are kids over-coached?
Most definitely, many coaches today still regard young players as “empty vessels” that have to be filled, instead of young people with amazing potential and intelligence to be stimulated and tapped into. Imagine, FIFA is still using the term “instructor” which is a term from the last century which should only be used at Military Services!
What is a coach's role? Is it that of a teacher?
When we say “the game is the teacher,” we mean that quite literally. Coaches should facilitate the stimulation of game intelligence and creativity through the use of simplified games in which children should discover for themselves as often as possible all secrets of the game. The coach’s role is to create an environment where the young players flourish naturally.
What is the most important skill in a young player?
Today most players have good technique and physical preparation so what separates the very best players is their level on game intelligence. It has to be considered the most important ability on the football field. Therefore young players have to be systematically exposed to games like “Funino” which unlocks and stimulates their creativity and game intelligence from 7/8 years onwards.
Do you, as a coach, give any importance to physical attributes like height or strength in a young player?
The strongest, fastest player without game intelligence will waste most of his potential, but the smallest intelligent player can overcome any opponent.
What is game intelligence? And how do you coach creativity and intelligence, if that is at all possible?
Game Intelligence is that ability to “read the game” and make good decisions as quickly as possible. The game of football is a constant flow of changing game situations and becomes very complex when playing the adult game of 11v 11.
From the earliest ages, players must be exposed to game situations in ever-increasing complexity, but starting with simple games first. In Funino, 3v3 with two goals out wide at each end, there are always options available, as one goal is usually less defended than the other. This facilitates greater perception, understanding and decision-making. In subsequent games in our development model, the game situations become more complex.
Also using the guided discovery coaching method helps to develop greater understanding and retention of game situations and ultimately better decision-making.
Playing games rather than isolated drills is another key factor in developing “game intelligence,”
You've worked in many countries and influenced a lot of people but it takes time for new ideas to be absorbed. How long does it normally take to change mentality of people?
In some countries people are ready for new ideas, especially the “newer” soccer countries where there is no tradition. In others it may take many years. Usually it takes 10 years for changes to take place. Thankfully through the internet, knowledge spreads much nowadays more quickly than in previous decades.
And finally, what is next for you?
My method is more or less used in all Spanish Football clubs since the Spanish Federation published my text books more than 20 years ago. Actually they are all sold out … and probably a new edition is on the way for 2014 with the newest updates.
For more information about Horst Wein and his ideas, visit his website www.thebeautifulgame.ie.