Decision Making in Soccer

A player continuously makes decisions throughout a soccer game. They decide when and how to perform every action on the field, including passing, shooting, finding openings, and choosing an attacker to defend.

Developing excellent decision-making on the field is just as essential as developing muscle strength and footwork skills. Decision-making leads to actions that can determine the outcome of the game.

It’s no wonder soccer coaches stress the importance of decision-making. This guide will explain the types of decisions soccer players have to make and how to make those decisions more wisely.

What Is Decision Making in Soccer?

Decision-making is a concept that applies to all sports and many aspects of life. In soccer, decision-making takes place at many points throughout the game. “Decision-making” broadly refers to choosing an action, tactic, or technique that benefits the team.

Soccer players make decisions on offense and defense whether or not they are near the ball. The following are several common decision-making points in the sport:

  • the decision to pass or shoot
  • choosing matchups on defense
  • deciding whether to steal or guard as a defender
  • choosing to dribble or pass
  • deciding which type of shot on goal to take

The game of soccer continuously moves faster. Players’ skills advance, the ball moves quicker, and decisions happen in milliseconds. A player who masters decision-making on the field is one of the most valuable players on the team.

How Do You Make Good Decisions in Soccer?

Excellent decision-making skills develop as a player learns and advances. Players can work on improving decision-making capabilities at home, during practice, and in games. The following are several ways for players to make better decisions on the field.

Build Confidence

Confidence is a key to success in every sport. The more a player believes in his soccer skills, the more defined his decisions will be. A player who works out and practices soccer skills during his off-time will feel more confident in his strength and decision-making during games.

Parents and coaches can also help build confidence in players by emphasizing their strengths and offering assistance when working on weaknesses. A player who is confident in himself will be confident in his decisions when game time comes.

Practice Remaining Calm

Numerous high-stress situations take place in each game. Players must regulate their emotions to allow for clear-headed decision-making.

One way to become more comfortable with high-stress gametime situations is to not shy away from them during games or practice. The more intense circumstances a player deals with, the more comfortable she’ll become with making decisions under stress.


Recognition is the act of scanning the entire field. A player with excellent decision-making skills sees where his teammates, the ball, and the opponents are. He’s looking for areas of pressure and open spots on the field to play the ball safely.

Tracking the ball informs every decision a player makes. Contrarily, losing track of the ball for a moment can result in a high-pressure situation and disoriented decision-making.

A player on defense should alternate their attention between the ball and the attacker. Coaches understand a player can’t see and know everything happening on the field at a given time. However, the more a player sees, the more information they have to make an intelligent decision.

Recognition also means assessing what teammates are doing. An open teammate calling for the ball may help a player decide to pass to them. Or, seeing that a player is out of breath may encourage a player to play the ball to someone else. Recognition is one of the most influential parts of the decision-making process, and it involves thinking about others as well as oneself.


The act of anticipating where the ball will go next begins in practice. A player must focus on the ball’s potential trajectory before it is played. Learning countless possible scenarios in practice and repeating them will result in comfortable and intelligent decision-making in the field.

Anticipation also involves understanding body language and other players’ strong points. A player with excellent decision-making skills is always alert and moving. They’re looking forward to the next play, so they can make the best decision when the time comes.


Recognition and anticipation determine the action a player takes. The faster a player reacts, the more time and space they have to make the best decision for the team.

How to Think Faster in Soccer

As mentioned above, a player wants to react to situations on the field as quickly as possible. However, that’s often easier said than done. Learning to think faster in soccer takes repetition during practice, games, and off-time at home. Playing in small-sided games, like indoor soccer, can help due to the fast-paced nature of the game.

Scanning the surrounding environment plays a significant role in how fast a player thinks. A player who is constantly scanning can anticipate what’s going to happen sooner and make decisions more quickly.

Another way to improve the quickness of decision-making is to analyze games. Coaches can hold viewings to evaluate games with players or send the videos to players individually to scrutinize at home. Players may also review professional matches to improve the quickness of decision-making.

Analyzing games shows players the many situations teams face throughout the games. The more familiar they are with the circumstances and the correct decisions, the more quickly they’ll make the right choices when game time comes.

The benefits of analyzing a player’s soccer games or professional games include:

  • viewing situations and helping players think faster when the same instances arise in the future
  • watching correct and incorrect decisions to understand the difference
  • understanding individual and team strengths and weaknesses

Thinking quickly in soccer gives a player more time to make decisions. The player with the fastest and best decision-making skills is often the best player on the team.

Feedback for Decision-Making

A player doesn’t have to advance their decision-making skills entirely on their own. Coaches are constantly working to help players make better choices during practice and games. They see the correct and incorrect decisions players make every time they play.

That’s why coaches are invaluable in helping players advance their decision-making skills. Coaches will often offer their input into a player’s on-field choices; however, players may also need to ask for additional assistance.

A player should ask their coach what they think of their current decision-making skills and how they can improve. The coach will likely provide helpful feedback on where the player should apply her energy to make improvements. Many times, a coach will be more dedicated to helping a player advance her decision-making when she makes it evident she wants to improve.

The Best Drills to Improve Decision-Making

Several drills can improve a player’s decision-making skills when performed at home or during practice. The following are a few of the best.

Play Keep-Away

Keep-away is a drill that players can try at practice or home with friends in the neighborhood. This drill only requires three players. One plays defense while the other two pass the ball back and forth.

Keep-away is beneficial for the defender’s decision-making skills because he has to decide whether to guard the player with the ball or attempt to steal it. The offenders constantly need to choose between dribbling away from the defender or passing. Keep-away puts pressure on all players, so they learn to make critical decisions in high-stress situations.

Attacking Drills

Place three players on offense and one or two on defense. Have the offenders push the ball toward the goal while the defenders attempt to steal the ball. This simple drill puts pressure on the attackers to dribble, pass, or shoot based on the defender’s movements and the movements of fellow attackers.

Shoot, Pass Touch

Players can practice this drill on the field or at home as long as they have one more person available. The coach (or another helper) passes the ball to the player and yells “shoot,” “pass,” or “touch.” The player must act as quickly as possible.

A coach can advance this drill by adding defenders to make the situation more stressful and time-sensitive.

Multi-Directional Games

The more multi-directional games a coach implements in practice, the better his players will become at making quicker, wiser decisions.

An example of an effective multi-directional game is placing players in a 1v1 situation. However, instead of having the attacking player approach one goal in the middle of the field, the coach will place a goal in each corner. This attacker has to work to create space, change directions, and choose which target to pursue. The defender needs to remain aware of the locations of both goals and decide when to defend the goal, guard the player, or steal the ball. Adding more goals and players increases the difficulty of the drill for more advanced players.

Multi-directional games improve spatial awareness, information processing, and quick decision-making.

Creative Challenges

Coaches can add challenges to traditional drills to improve decision-making. Players can use these same challenges when practicing at home. Examples of creative challenges to improve decision making include:

  • Covering one eye: This limits a player’s vision, so they have to improve their head movement to see the ball, teammates, the opposition, and the goal.
  • Using the same color jersey: Most teams use pinnies during practice to separate the offense and defense. Eliminate the pinnies and keep both teams in the same color during scrimmages. This causes confusion, increasing the need for superior recognition, anticipation, and reaction.
  • Tying hands behind the back: Playing with the hands behind the back decreases the player’s running speed, increasing the need for quicker, more precise decision-making on and off the ball.

The following videos offer several more drills to improve mental sharpness and decision-making.

Speed and quality of decision-making directly correlate to a player’s success. Practicing decision-making drills is as critical as working on footwork, passing, and shooting. Coaches must implement decision-making drills into every practice, and players must continue to improve these skills during downtime.