This article was provided by Coaches Network

While there is no question that athletes must have knowledge of their sport, speed, and power to be successful, another characteristic is rising to the forefront that can make all the difference during game play: the ability to make swift decisions. In a single game, athletes will be faced with a myriad of split second decisions. What the players do in practice will either strengthen or weaken their ability to make the right choice.

Spanish soccer player and playmaker Andres Iniesta said, “Speed of thought and speed of decision making separates the best players in the world from the rest.” Coaches are the frontline in creating players who are quick thinkers and making sure their decision-making skills are constantly growing and improving.

But how can you make sure that developing these skills are front and center in your coaching strategy? In a blog for the website Coach Logic, women’s soccer coach Gary Curneen discusses the attributes needed for a strong decision-maker and how coaches can help athletes reach their full potential on the field.

According to Curneen, there are six key elements that athletes must master in order to make intelligent decisions. These include having a high skill level in their sport, an understanding of timing and positioning in relation to other players and the field, being able to communicate with their teammates and focus on the play at hand, and having conditioned responses to situations that might arise during a game. In his blog, Curneen lays out multiple steps that can help coaches build these attributes in their players.

First of all, Curneen suggests keeping practice up-tempo and varied. If a player is facing the same obstacles and running the same plays every practice, they will be less likely to make the right decisions when it comes to the high intensity of game time. Changing up practice will make players more comfortable with shifting situations and give them a chance to learn the right responses to different circumstances that can occur in a game. This will build their confidence in knowing how to react to almost anything.

Coaches can also add a competitive aspect to their practice drills. According to Curneen, decisions become more imperative to athletes when something is at stake. They will feel the pressure to not only make a decision, but one that will best help them succeed. This is the same type of pressure that they will feel in a game, and in doing this coaches can help condition athletes to automatically react in the right way when faced with multiple options.

Another suggestion from Curneen is to create “controlled chaos,” in which the entire team is challenged to solve a problem. Doing this enforces the idea that players need to communicate and know their surroundings at all times, even when things seem out of hand. And while each player’s individual ability to make the right decision is important, if they are not also thinking of the good of the team, then there is a higher chance of negative outcome. Curneen suggests giving players different roles and responsibilities to help them work together in solving the little problems at practice, which will lead to being able to solve bigger ones during game time.

Jose Mourinho, manager of Premier League Club Manchester United, uses accountability to strengthen teamwork among his players. “Jose Mourinho has handed team talks over to players in an attempt to get his team to take ownership of their performance because if a team decides to take responsibility, the rewards are huge,” writes Curneen. “The culture becomes player-driven, concentration levels rise dramatically and communication on the field drives every single player towards getting the desired result.”

One last element in teaching players to make the right decisions on the field is helping them to make the right ones in everyday situations. Having regular conversations with players about life outside of sport can keep a coach aware of any destructive habits or relationships that might weigh the player down. If an athlete is acting in a way that hurts them mentally, emotionally, or physically, no amount of training will be able to help them work to their full potential on the field.

According to Curneen, coaches can serve as a critical juncture for athletes, making sure that their relationships and actions are working towards their greatest success. “Each player knows the difference between right and wrong, but few know the difference between good and great,” he writes.

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