Guest article: The development of game intelligence in children's football - an accompaniment or essential?

Guest article: The development of game intelligence in children's football - an accompaniment or essential?

by Tobias Bluhm –

There is currently a lot of discussion in German youth football about how we can train our youngest kickers even better in order to produce more players at the top level in the future.

In addition to the introduction of the fair play league, where the pressure to achieve results should be taken away from the children so that they can play freely and creatively again, a further change to the form of competition is now being discussed. This new form of competition is called Funino. A game where the children demonstrate their skills in a 3-on-3 game. Small playing fields, small teams, lots of ball contact, lots of goals and therefore more success for each individual child are just a few of the many advantages of this form of play developed by Horst Wein in the 1980s.

The aim of Funino is to improve children's game intelligence, i.e. their perception, anticipation, creativity and analysis of game situations. A training focus that is far too often neglected.

If you ask many young coaches what they want to teach their players, all they say is:

“You should be able to dribble, shoot and pass well. The passing game is particularly important to me. So pick up your head, see your teammate and play.”

In principle, these training focuses are not wrong, but the question is how to teach them.

Because many coaches think that their players will learn to pass if they master the passing technique really well. Therefore, a wide variety of pass sequences are often rehearsed as early as 8 or 9 year olds. Pass - let the clap - pass - turn up - play to the outside - cross - bicycle kick - goal - celebrate like Balotelli 🙂 . A bit exaggerated, but that's roughly what it looks like when many young coaches want to teach their players how to pass and how to recognize their teammates. However, most people then wonder why the children simply cannot implement it later in competition. After all, you trained so hard. The reason for this is the lack of promotion of game intelligence.

What is game intelligence?

To explain it simply, game intelligence means that a player makes the right decisions as often as possible in a wide variety of game situations. The fewer bad decisions a player makes, the higher his gaming intelligence is.

An intelligent player has already decided what he will do next before he receives the ball. Less intelligent players only start thinking when they have the ball at their feet.

However, before a player finds the right solution, he goes through 4 phases completely automatically and subconsciously. The interaction of these phases ultimately makes for an intelligent kicker.

#1 Perception

  • Recognize relevant information for the respective game situation
  • Pre-orientation
  • Where am I in the field right now?
  • Where are my teammates?
  • Where is the ball ?
  • Where are my opponents?

#2 Understand and interpret

  • Classify the game situation correctly
  • Access experiences and wealth of knowledge

#3 Decision Making

  • What do I have to do to solve the problem?
  • Weigh up opportunities and risks
  • find suitable solution

#4 Technical execution

  • Motor implementation, for example a pass, a dribble, a quick turn, a shot on goal or much more...

So 3 of these 4 phases take place in the head and actually constantly throughout the entire game. That's why a world-class player like Andrea Pirlo, for example, said: “You play football with your head. Your feet are just your tools.”

That's exactly how it is, because 80% of mistakes in professional football are decision-making errors (game intelligence) and not technical errors.

This means that no matter how technically gifted you are and how many passing sequences you train, if the players can't find solutions for certain game situations, often make wrong decisions or simply take too long, a large and extremely important component is missing.

“Only thanks to his game intelligence is it possible for a player to translate his technical and physical skills into effective performance.” – Horst Wein

How can you train game intelligence?

Quite simply through game-oriented training. This means forms of play in which the children are repeatedly confronted with different play situations and therefore constantly have to make new decisions.

Game intelligence cannot be trained with isolated forms of exercise, i.e. with passing sequences, as this does not promote decision-making in any way. There is no point in training pure passing technique if the player does not know in which situations in the game he has to use it.

Another important point in promoting game intelligence is coaching the coach. He should encourage his players to think with clever questions instead of giving them all the solutions. Because if the coach already gives all the solutions, the children simply carry them out without having properly understood the game situation. This in turn means that without the coach's instructions/instructions, the players often don't know how to solve certain situations and therefore make the wrong decisions more often.

Only through active learning, trying things out and allowing yourself to make mistakes is it possible for learning results to remain in the child's long-term memory. A large memory of different gaming experiences ultimately enables a better understanding of the various situations in the game and therefore the making of correct decisions.

About the author:

Tobias Bluhm is the founder of the website , which provides coaches with helpful information and training methods for everyday training. He is also an author for . He himself is on the field as a U9 coach and, with his B license, is ideally qualified to train with children. Tobias was most recently honored by the DFB and has since been the DFB Volunteer Award Winner 2019