Guest article: The brain – the center of our performance II

The last post concluded with the question of which solution is the right one in the following situation:

Fictitious game situation: “Red” wins the ball in the center after “White” builds up the game.

  1. Option: He decides to dribble into free space
  2. Option: He decides to play to the starting winger
  3. Option: He decides to play a deep pass to the striker between the IVs

Which is the correct solution?

Correct! The one that leads to the gate. And there is no one solution for this.

The player makes his decision primarily based on experiences he has had in similar situations in the past. If the outcome was positive, he will prefer to look for this solution again. If the outcome is negative, a new strategy is developed.

Let's now look at a negative and a positive outcome for option 2:

Positive outcome: Striker runs towards the goal alone -> positive assessment of the solution

Outcome negative: Opposing IV is strong in positional play and intercepts the pass

  • Maybe dribbling to tie up an IV or passing to the wide player would have been a better option?

When does my player act consciously, when unconsciously – and which is better?

If a player makes many decisions unconsciously, i.e. correctly INTUITIVELY, he needs significantly less time to make his decision because the stimulus processing in the brain is shorter. In this context, people also like to talk about FASTER ACTING PLAYERS. However, as the game situation becomes more complex, the difficulty of making the right decisions unconsciously also increases. More experienced players already have an AUTOMATED SUCCESSFUL ACTION STRATEGY, even in increasingly complex game situations.

So in our example, does the player make the decision unconsciously or consciously?

Correct! Of course, that depends on the individual player. If our player is an inexperienced youth player, he needs more time (we remember: more fixations, less information per fixation, longer conscious decision-making) for his action process.

So we have to get our player to CORRECTLY PERCEIVE the situation by, if possible, “scanning” the game-decisive scenes with his FIRST LOOK and peripherally perceiving the events around him. Even in increasingly complex situations, he should make a DECISION with a SUCCESSFUL OUTLET as automatically as possible without long thought processes and IMPLEMENT it PERFECTLY using his motor skills.

But how do we do that?

Stop dictating actions to players

In football, tactics are often understood as instructions from the coach to the players about how they should behave. When we talk about TACTICAL KNOWLEDGE, this is absolutely true. This includes, for example, the EXPLICIT COMMUNICATION of game systems, the benefits of certain actions (“if-then strategies”) and behavior in standard situations.

The more complex and open the game situation is, the more important IMPLICIT LEARNING becomes for our players. Only through this unconscious processing of information can AUTOMATISMS arise that enable players to act unconsciously and therefore very FAST. A study by Berry & Broadbent (1984) even showed that explicit knowledge often has a negative impact on performance.

Mistakes are essential

As we now know, youth players in particular HAVE to make MISTAKES. This is the only way they can develop differentiated action plans in different situations and have the opportunity to choose the right one from a SERIES OF ALTERNATIVES (illustrated graphically in Figure 3). To do this, we coaches have to continually present the players with new challenges through appropriate training content. The way we coaches interact with the players is particularly important. We have to make it clear to you that it's not a problem if something doesn't work.

Fig. 3.: Coupling of situation and action: choosing an action from alternatives (according to Roth).

Break patterns and thereby make players variable

To do this, let's go back to our example: Our player INTUITIVELY chooses option 1 and dribbles because he is fast and often solves situations successfully. But he increasingly loses sight of the free player in depth.

If dribbling is his strength, then we as coaches must not deprive him of it under any circumstances. Our job is to help him use this strength correctly. To do this, we have to tell him what HE needs to pay attention to in order to recognize whether another option is more likely to be successful.

Getting players to turn on their brains themselves

In football, as everywhere, there is rarely THE one solution. When choosing a solution, it is important that the player sees a plan behind it that he or she develops INDEPENDENTLY. We achieve this through suitable forms of play in which the players are constantly presented with new tasks. Only the question about a failed action “what a possible better solution could have been” helps him to reflect on himself.

Correctly assess the reason for the failure

A player has an outstanding idea, but fails to implement it with motor skills. Do we now criticize our player for this? No, just the opposite! “Very good idea!” is our feedback and we need to work on the player’s technical skills. Because if he can successfully implement his game-intelligent thoughts in his motor skills, then we as coaches have done a lot of things right.

Tobias Bierschneider (24) lives in Leipzig. Current graduate in the master’s program “Diagnostics and Intervention in Competitive Sports”. He is an assistant coach at RB Leipzig's U11 team. He previously lived in Munich for 5 years, where he completed his bachelor's degree in “sports science” at the TU. In the 2017/18 season he worked as an assistant coach for the SpVgg Unterhaching U14 team. He gained his first experience in an NLZ in 2016 as part of an internship at FC Ingolstadt.


  • De Groot, A. (1969). Perception and memory in chess; an experimental study of the heuristics of the professional eye. Mimeograph; Psychological Laboratory University of Amsterdam, Seminar September.
  • Gralla, V. (2007). Peripheral vision in sports. Possibilities and limitations illustrated using the example of synchrono-optical perception. Bochum (also dissertation Ruhr University Bochum Faculty of Sports Science)
  • Helsen, WF, Pauwels, JMVisual search in solving tactical game problems. In: Daugs, R., Mech-Ling, H., Blischke, K., Oliver, N. (eds.): Sports motor learning and technique training. Volume 2. International symposium “Motor skills and movement research” 1989 in Saarbrücken. Cologne 1991, 199-202
  • Hohmann, A., Lames, M., Letzelter, M. (2014). Introduction to Training Science (6th edition). Wiebelsheim: Limpert
  • Rösler, F. (2011). Psychophysiology of cognition. Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience. Heidelberg: Springer Verlag
  • Taylor, St. (1965). Eye Movements in Reading: Facts and Fallacies. American Educational Research Association, 2 (4), 187-202.
  • Williams, AM, Davids, K. (1998). Visual search strategy, selective attention and expertise in soccer. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 69 2, 111-128

Author: Tammo Neubauer

You may also like

View all
Example blog post
Example blog post
Example blog post