What Game Intelligence Looks Like

Reproduced from “Developing Youth Football Players” by Horst Wein.

An intelligent player does the following:

  • Generally chooses the best option in less time.
  • Not only looks for the best solution to the problem he or she is confronted with on the pitch by quickly prioritizing all the various alternatives, but also calculates the risk factors involved. The player rarely loses focus until he or she has resolved the situation.
  • Knows in any moment of the match how to give adequate speed to the ball and to the rhythm of the team.
  • Is never rushed and feels secure and confident when performing a particular move anywhere on the pitch. The player controls all the space around with his or her eyes, in front, behind and to either side, taking full advantage of both very limited space and wide open spaces. The player always appears to have time. He or she knows that rushing and doing things too quickly tend to produce errors.
  • Always tries to achieve a balance between taking risks and safety. Too much risk could mean losing the ball, or even the match, whilst playing without any risk rarely helps turn the match in your favour. The player is brave enough to take risks!
  • Stands out because he or she can adapt to the ever-changing situations in the game, to the referee, to team-mates, to opponents, and to the pitch and weather conditions.
  • Knows that things do not always come off. This is why their performance level rarely dips after making a mistake (or two or three) in a row.
  • Has good visual-motor assessment or spatial awareness. This means a player correctly determines the distance between a team-mate, the opposition and themselves, or to the lines of the pitch and the location of the goals. These are skills acquired through many years of practice  with simplified games that also sharpened his or her decision-making skills.
  • Knows when and where to pass the ball and when it is better to keep possession.
  • Keeps it simple. Only a master, an outstanding player, can play simply.
  • Knows what he or she is going to do with the ball before the player even receives or controls it.
  • Uses creativity to the benefit of the team and team-mates.
  • Knows how to play football without the ball, constantly making himself or herself available to the team-mates to whom he or she offers possible solutions to many situations that arise on the pitch.
  • Is a player who contributes all his or her qualities for the good of the team. A football player who does not use intelligence to serve his or her team-mates will never succeed in the game. He or she will instead tend to perceive only a portion of the game, seeing plays completely isolated and never seeing the big picture.
  • Frequently asks questions and quickly learns from his or her mistakes. This player is good at memorizing a variety of players and reproducing them.
  • Only does what is within his or her capabilities.
  • Knows how to pace himself or herself throughout a game. Experience allows the player to make appropriate decisions, such as when to run or when it is a waste of energy.
  • Is not affected by stress, knowing that a high level of stress tends to narrow focus and perception and also influences decision-making negatively. This explains why sometimes key players do not make positive contributions in decisive matches. The pressure nullifies their usual intelligent play.
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