Decision Making and the Development Process

Decision making is critical in soccer, the best players routinely make the best decisions, find the most innovative solutions, and go through decision-making processes faster than others. There are right and wrong decisions in soccer, and there are gradients of right and wrong decisions. Knowing this is critical to teaching the art of player awareness and decision-making.

If you have heard a coach say ‘Never kick it to the middle in the penalty box’ or, ‘When in doubt kick it out’ or, ‘Never pass it to the Keeper’ or ‘Always play forward’ then you have heard him/her articulate a set of principles that minimizes the decision-making of the player. Never and Always are to be seldom used because everything in soccer depends on the situation at hand. Coaches must teach players to recognize the situation and help them work through the various options in that situation.

Consider the principle articulated by our coach above…

“Never pass it to the Keeper”

She doesn’t want her players to kick the ball to middle of the penalty box because it puts the ball near the goal that they are defending. She has articulated a principle that will soon see the players whacking the ball wildly to get it out of their box. Isn’t there a time to play the ball back to the keeper in the center of the penalty box?

Coaches have to work to articulate their principles clearly. Instead of…

“Never kick it to the middle in the penalty box”

the phrasing needs to encourage players to understand their surroundings. A coach could use this principle instead:

‘Never kick it to the middle in the penalty box’ 

“Look to play out of pressure in all parts of the field. Look for more space to play into in our defensive third as the opponent is near our goal.”

This principle more readily conveys to the player what it is that they need to accomplish and how to evaluate the situation.


Now in a game when the coach observes a player make a poor decision by passing it to a player who was tightly marked near the goal being defended, you can refer the player back to the principle through questions.

  • How much space did your teammate have to receive the pass?
  • Did you see other options?
  • Did you choose the best option?

These questions force the player to reflect on the decision he just made, and that reflection and evaluation is key to the learning process.

Below is a link to a youth club playing a very defined style of soccer. The teams are actually equally matched but play different styles. Observe the way in which the team on the ball moves, and acts. Their coach is not yelling at them, he is letting them make decisions based on principles that have been taught in training.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vn_byFYV_R8

Kyle Bakas ∼ Executive DirectorOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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