Think for a moment about your ‘world 11’. If you could select a team of the best players to have ever played the game in each position, who comes to mind? Now ask yourself what characteristics these players all possess.
You may have thought of outstanding technical ability, or of physical characteristics such as strength, speed or stamina. Or maybe, you are aware of sports psychology and recognize that they must all possess great motivation, must be confident, and able to control anxiety. But these players also share specific cognitive characteristics, without which they would not be great.
Think again about your ‘world 11’ and consider some of the things that have been said about them. You have probably heard commentators say ‘he reads the game so well’, or ‘shows great anticipation’. I personally have heard ‘they always seem to be in the right place at the right time’, ‘he sees the field so well’, and ‘he possesses a 6th sense’ said about some of my chosen players. Describing players as having a ‘6th sense’ makes what they do seem somehow mystical and inaccessible. But this is not really the case. The study of experts reveals multiple, measurable characteristics. For example, Singer and Janelle (1999) note that experts in sports:
• Have greater sport-specific knowledge
• Take greater meaning from information presented to them
• Store and access information more readily in memory
• Can more readily detect information and identify patterns
• Use probability more effectively
• Make quicker and better decisions
All of these characteristics are developed in response to the competitive demands of the game. Playing to a higher level of soccer requires that you have deep tactical knowledge, recognize patterns of play, anticipate events before they happen, focus attention, monitor space and players around you, and make time-pressured, complex decisions based on probability and rule-structures. In his 2004 book called "Developing game intelligence", Horst Wein hit on some of these elements when he defined game intelligence as "that quality which allows a player to recognize and adapt to situations on the soccer pitch quickly and in the high pressure atmosphere of the match" (p.1).
We certainly agree with Wein that recognizing and adapting to situations under pressure are a key element of game intelligence. However, in our book called ‘Developing the complete tactical player: coaching soccer with game intelligence in mind’ we take a slightly different view of what game intelligence (what some also have termed 'Soccer IQ') is: the ability to use knowledge to selectively recognize critical information before and as events happen and to make quick and effective, high probability decisions based on that knowledge in diverse situations:
"Game intelligence is the ability to use knowledge to selectively recognize critical information before and as events happen and to make quick and effective, high probability decisions based on that knowledge in diverse situations."
We put knowledge first and foremost in our definition because we believe that it is the cornerstone of all game intelligence. As in all things, knowledge makes other processes easier. Deep tactical knowledge:
• Filters our attention - making it more efficient
• Makes memory work more easily - allowing us to more readily learn new things
• Allows us to see the structure of the game - enabling us to recognize patterns of play and anticipate rather than react
• Is the key to transferring what we learn in practice to the real game, and to future, more complex practices
Did you ever hear an athlete (often a quarterback) say that after a while 'the game slowed down'? Well, this is an example of improved tactical knowledge and game intelligence allowing the athlete to process information more easily. Simply put, tactical knowledge greatly reduces the mental demands of playing soccer, and allows players to play at a higher level than ever before. Despite the great importance of tactical knowledge and game intelligence, they are not being developed effectively in the modern player. There are many reasons for this, but it starts with the focus of early soccer development being on winning. This has a knock-on effect of coaching to win, and using instructions styles that stifle players' own thinking and discovery in favor of a quick fix 'show and tell'.
*This information is directly taken from 'Developing the complete tactical player: coaching soccer with game intelligence in Mind', authored by Rob Leather and Dr. Rob Horn*