How to Improve Soccer Decision Making? (Tips, Drills & More)

how to improve soccer decision making

Decision making in soccer is what often makes the difference between winning and losing a match!

Making the right decision means achieving the desired result (Creating opportunities and scoring goals), after carefully analyzing most possible alternative actions and outcomes.

However, developing this ability requires time and a solid understanding of the game!

In this article, I breakdown what it takes to develop this important quality.

Importance of Decision making in Soccer

Quality decision making aims to minimize energy for maximum result!

Whether your team will score the goal often depends on your decision to shoot, dribble, or pass the ball.

The entire game and team play is a result of individual decision making of all the players on the field. If done effectively, you will put your tactical ideas into action.

If players do not work on improving this skill, this will lead to constant errors and disconnection in the team, leading to a bad atmosphere in a locker room and losing matches.

Attributes of a soccer player with superior decision making …

To have this crucial skill, you need, first, to develop these attributes:

  • Spatial Awareness represents the player’s ability to see through the playing field and notice empty space that can be exploited.
  • Tactical Knowledge means understanding the nature of the game and how it is structured. Players that understand various formations, players’ positions and playing strategies have a deeper level of knowledge of the game itself and have an advantage when it comes to making the right decision.
  • Risk Assessment of the play refers to evaluating each alternative in terms of risk. Players are sometimes forced to make some aggressive, risk decisions. Assessing the risk level of each action may provide better insight and lead to making the right decision.
  • Technique Skills will make you a more versatile player. Players with better ball control, dribbling skill or passing accuracy have more options at their disposal.
  • Physical Attributes such as endurance, body control and balance, movement and speed can help you with providing more strength and power in your play, making you easier to use empty space in the field. Learn How to develop Soccer Shape

Tips and Drills to improve your decision making abilities …

Below some useful tips and drills to develop this important skill:

Important Tip: To properly practice those Drills, I strongly recommend to use soccer shoes with decent Quality  and reliable Grip to perform at the best of your abilities. You can have a quick look at these quality soccer cleats to get an idea!

1. Looking around

You have to develop a habit of keeping your head up and constantly scanning the field!

You have to be aware of where the ball is and where the players are, both opponents and your teammates.

What is happening in front of you, behind you, is there an empty space that you can exploit? Know where you are within the game.

Scope and assess all threats and opportunities!

2. Predict the movement

Think about the ball trajectory and other players’ movement. Try to anticipate the play and position yourself accordingly.

This constantly thinking about game conditions will keep you alert and focused all the time. You have to be a proactive player, always concentrated on the next move.

3. Work on your passing

Players with great decision making skill are considered playmakers in their team with a task to create a play for their teammates. That is why mastering the ability of quality passing is essential for their role in a team.

Decision making drills are designed to raise your mental sharpness and concentration level, so you can make effective decisions when you are in the game.

What are some training drills you may do to get better at it?

Passing by numbers

This drill is done in pairs.

  1. First player passes the ball to the second player with saying a number, like one, two, three…
  2. Second player has to make that number of contacts in total with the ball and return the pass.

This exercise is not only great for improving technical skill and passing, but it influences decision making elements as well.

When your partner calls up a number, you have to process that information quickly and make the right decision.

You can do the same drill but with a partner throwing the ball to you, while you have to juggle before returning pass.

This is a harder variation of this drill as you have to position your body appropriately to maintain balance.

Important thing to mention is that the player calling the numbers has to do that after sending the ball. That way you have a little time to process the information and act accordingly, which enhances your decision making skills.

Cones Triangle

This drill is done in pairs also. You need to set up cones forming a triangle, and each of the cones should be a different color.

  1. First player passes the ball to the player in the middle of the triangle and calls the color.
  2. Player in the middle should dribble around the cone of called color, return to the middle and pass the ball back.
  3. If the first player says “man on”, the player in the triangle should return the pass immediately, simulating the situation of having a player at his back.

This exercise will increase awareness of the player’s surroundings and improve reflexes!

One important tip here for the player in the triangle is to always look over his shoulder after returning the ball. Developing this habit will help you with scanning the field during the game with every contact, and before receiving the pass you will know where your teammates and opponents are, and by the time the ball comes to you, you will already have few playing options in your mind.

You can make this drill harder with players throwing the ball to you, so you have to make the right decision while calming down the ball.

Passing from the Box

You form a box area with the player in the middle!

  1. You have one player up front, and two of them are passing the ball back and forth.
  2. Third player is positioned behind the middle player and has a task to send the signals with his arm: to the right, to the left, or call for the ball.
  3. When one of the sides is signaled, the player in the middle should dribble the ball to that side of the box, return to the center, and play the pass with the player up front.
  4. If the player behind signals a call for the ball, the player in the box should play a pass to him.

Because a player in the middle area is constantly playing a passing game with the player in front of him, he must check for the signal behind him by looking over his shoulder between each pass.

This drill is not only forcing you to constantly check over your shoulder, which enhances this habit, but is also making you focus on visual signals rather than voice. This will help you improve your surrounding scanning abilities.

Tight Control Dribbling

This drill is extremely fun to play!

Your goal is to dribble the ball from one point to your partner, while he is kicking the balls at you, trying to hit your ball or feet, distract you that way, and put you off balance

Key point here is that you have to keep your head up while you dribble. Too many players dribble with their head down, which lowers their area awareness and they often do not even see what is going on around them.

This drill will force you to keep your head up while controlling the ball, and react to every potential threat by changing your direction.

One tip here is to dribble from side to side, making yourself a hard target to hit.

This will also translate to your game. Dribbling in a straight line is making you predictable, while this way it will be harder for defenders to catch you.

Also, if the ball hits your leg, keep going and maintain the balance.

5. Same color teams

Play intra-squad friendly with all the players wearing the same color shirts!

This makes it harder for players to recognize their teammates from their opponents, which forces them to concentrate more and to be more careful.

You will be in a situation that is more challenging than before, and it will help you develop quicker reaction skills.

Soccer Positions that require decision making abilities

Although decision making is a crucial skill for every position on the field, some roles requires it a bit more!

The first position is the central midfielder. This requires constantly scanning the playing field and always evaluating alternatives for further play.

The main role is to send the ball to the right direction and the right player, or empty space to exploit.

From the quality of his decision making, depends the success of teams’ possession game and the success of their attacking efforts.

The other position is the offensive forward. It demands being aware of your surroundings and the position of opponents.

The main task is to look for empty space to exploit and make the use of the playmaker’s pass.

To achieve this he must make the right decision at the right time, so he must have the ability to think quickly in accordance with the situation on the field.

Also, regarding the fact he is the player that is guarded all the time by opposing defenders, whether he will succeed to make use of the space depends at a huge extent on his decision whether to dribble, shoot the ball or pass it further.

Difference between technical and tactical decision making

Tactical decision making refers to the characteristic of an individual or a team that allows them to read the conditions on the field and react accordingly.

This is the collection of the team’s playing philosophy, formation, level of spatial awareness, their stamina and physical preparation, etc.

This could be managed at a coaching level too!

Technical aspect of this skill refers to the individual ability to do the right more at the right time to maximize his team’s chances to score more goals.

It simply consists of dribbling, passing skill, ball control, speed, etc. But doing it in a meaningful way and at the right moment.

The simplest way to distinguish this is to say, that tactical decision is what to do, while technical decision is how to do it!

How much time it takes to actually improve?

It is important to mention that this is a continuous learning process, considering the fact that there are numerous situations developing in a game, and each of them is unique and specific.

Most typical schedules for improving this skill is to focus first on developing basic habits, like looking over your shoulder, dribbling with your head up, etc.

The best way for this is individual practice and you should practice this for 6 weeks!

After this, the next exercise is practicing spatial awareness with your teammates and practicing different situations with multiple alternatives available.

This is the part that focuses on scanning the surrounding and evaluating possible options for play.

Projected time length is around 14 weeks.

In the end comes the advanced decision making, with game-like conditions and scenarios. You are now practicing different kinds of situations, with analyzing various tactical approaches and formations.

This section requires in-depth knowledge of tactics and playing strategies, and requires around 6 months to improve.

Famous soccer players with amazing decision making abilities

Some players that possess a high level quality of decision making abilities in soccer were:

  • Paul Scholes
  • Xavi Hernandez
  • Andres Iniesta

These players are considered in the soccer world as a shiny example of this skill.

What makes them so good at this? If you watch the games of these elite soccer players, you will notice how much preparation and time they invest in an action that occurs before they actually receive possession.

Their great advantage was the ability to make small adjustments of movements in order to maximize space available to them.

They were positioning themselves in a way that allows them superb field vision, so they could scan the entire playing area before the ball came to their possession. This was their secret to quick and reliable actions.

By the time the ball was passed to them, they already did the scanning of the field and analyzing all the available options. Their body is ready and positioned in a right manner to proceed with the chosen alternative, which is the best possible option for the play.

This is how they could be one step ahead of their opponents and pick the most dangerous option.

Final Thoughts …

My main goal was not only to help you improve your ability to make decision real-time while playing, but also to let you know that – dribbling, shooting, juggling … – are not the only skills you should focus on …

… There are other obscure skills that require your attention that will certainly make you a much better player!

Lastly, I highly invite you to learn about these practical soccer skills for midfielders … I believe you will find those very interesting!

Claressa Cormier

Claressa Cormier has over 15 years of soccer experience between playing the sport at a semi-professional level, following the biggest soccer teams & leagues out there as well as helping beginners to get started on the right foot.

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