Coaching the Decision

Players encounter countless situations during games.  Ensuring that young players understand what they should be doing given certain circumstances can be challenging.  It is a coach’s job to consider what questions a player may be – or should be – asking himself in a given situation in order to help the player find the right solution in the future.  One can find detailed decision trees for soccer players all over the internet, but regardless of situation, let’s consider the basics of what’s involved.

In order for a coach to diagnose a situation, he needs to help a player break down the situations.  One way of looking at it is to think about basic questions that the player should be considering – they are questions that help players begin to recognize visual cues inherent in the game.

WHAT is the problem or situation?

WHERE on the field is it happening?

HOW can a problem be solved (what technique should be used?)

WHEN (choosing the right technique at the correct moment – skill)

WHY choose one tool over another? (what does the situation call for)

Using this model, let’s look at a rudimentary example.  In this instance, a coach witnessed his player hit a hard driven shot right at the goalkeeper, who saved it:

WHAT was the situation:  The player had the ball near the opponent’s goal, with only the goalkeeper in front of him

WHEN/WHERE on the field:  The player was inside the penalty area, with time and space

HOW:  The player chose to strike the ball with his laces for power

WHY:  This is what the coach needs to help a player determine – why choose power over finesse?

As any coach of young players will recognize, this is a situation that happens frequently.  In order to help the player recognize what went wrong, the coach needs to patiently “paint the picture” for the player and revisit his options.  Clearly, standing in the penalty area with only the goalkeeper to beat is an enticing situation, but it also calls for calm – something younger players often struggle with!  The player should be asked to think about what happened – not to punish him, but to help him learn and improve.  Could he have used another way to score?  What other technique could he have used?   The conversation could then turn to a coaching point, such as “passing the ball into the goal…” like this guy:


Regardless of the situation, using basic questions with young players helps them solve the problems for themselves so that they make better decisions the next time.

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