– Part One
Soccer is a game of speed. But not in the traditional sense of the word. Pace will always play a part in the beautiful game, but I’m not on about quick feet. I’m talking about a quick mind. I’m referring to nimble thinking. A footballer should live, breathe and sleep speed of thought. Here’s a simple way to improve it.
Practice your speed of thought. It really is that simple. If you want to get better at it, practice it. Thinking at speed as you compete is not black magic. It’s secret doesn’t lie in a tomb in the Far East or on an island in the Pacific Ocean. And it’s not just genetically determined. Sure some players are born with a rapid mind, but every soccer player can learn to think that little bit quicker.
Practice, practice, practice! The more you practice this type of football psychology the quicker you will think on the pitch.
What can you do to quicken the tempo of your brain? Well, stage one of creating incredible speed is awareness.
Awareness is the first step in thinking quicker. You can’t accelerate your thinking if you don’t know what’s going on around you. The next time you train set yourself a goal of playing ‘head up’ for longer. Check your shoulders more often and take more snapshots of your surroundings – try to have 360 degree awareness at all times.
Over the years I’ve spent thousands of hours by the side of the pitch watching some of the very best players in the world train and compete. A striking difference between watching the pro’s play and watching youth soccer players train is the amount of time the best professionals look up and around consistently and constantly.
I once took a youth team player at a Premiership Academy through 10 minutes of footage of Cesc Fabregas. I asked the player what it was he noticed about Fabregas and he commented that the then Arsenal player checked his shoulders over 10 times a minute. And it appeared that every decision he made was based on what he had just seen.
Can you get to the Fabregas level? Can you challenge yourself to expand your awareness horizons and check to the left, right, in front and behind you more than 10 times a minute?
The world’s best players have developed an internal tracking system that scans the immediate environment. Start to build yours immediately. Be relentless with this objective. Obsess it! The more you do it the more comfortable you’ll feel playing head up.
This simple process starts your education as a quick thinking footballer. The next stage will be coming soon
Be a Quick Soccer Thinker – Stage Two
You are a speeding bullet. You are grease lightening. You are fleet of foot. You are non stop. You are rapid, zippy and quick. You are relentless with your movement. You find space and you cover space before anyone else. You are here then you are there. And it’s all because you are a quick thinker. Here’s stage two of my three stage quick thinking process.
You’ve worked your way past stage one. You now play head up. You look ahead, you look behind and you check both shoulders regularly. You have a new habit – the ability to see 360 degrees of the pitch. You aren’t just slightly aware, you have world class awareness. You scan the pitch religiously and you see everything!
The next stage on your quick thinking journey is to improve your anticipation. By anticipation I’m not talking about movement, although how and where you move is affected. This is the decision making stage, not the action stage.
By anticipation I’m referring to your brain’s ability to predict play and reach a decision based on that prediction. It’s a 2 step process – once you have improved vision you have to do something with the snapshot you’ve taken. You have toassess and decide.
Assess – I see this space – is this the best space to move into? (Will I make the most impact in this new position?)
Decide – Yes, this is the correct position OR no, this is the wrong decision
A little like the awareness stage I described to you in a previous blog (Click here to view) it is you, the player, who needs to diligently work on this. Sure, your coaches can set up training practices that can sharpen your thinking, but youhave to practice this process on purpose. You have to deliberately and intentionally practice this stage of your thinking.
In your next training session practice assessing as you see. Look and assess! Look and assess! Practice deciding as soon as you assess. Look, assess and decide! Look, assess and decide! This is a skill, and like all skills it can be improved.
Does this sound complex and tough to do? Of course it does. This is what led Xavi Hernandes to say recently in an interview that playing the Tiki Taka football that Barcelona have been famed for in recent times is hard and complicated. To ‘assess and decide’ so quickly is extraordinarily difficult – very few players on the planet have developed the speed they need to play in the Barca style.
But it can be done. It is simple determined by your dedication to your football psychology.
Go into every training session looking to improve your awareness and anticipation. Whenever you set foot on a pitch look to speedily assess every situation you encounter every moment of the game. Strive to make lightening quick decisions based on the assessments you make. You’ll make mistakes to start with, but with desire, discipline and determination you may just find a Xavi inside your mind.