'the lessons learned in implicit games stay with players longer and are less likely to be affected by pressure/fatigue in games'
As important as a player’s skills and technique are, their ability to make the right decision in a split second while under fierce pressure is just as important. Fortunately, you can train them to develop the right instincts.

Game-sense training involves three main areas of improvement– technical skill, tactical skill and team play.

Implicit and Explicit Learning

The two key types of learning are implicit and explicit learning:
  • Implicit learning takes place when you learn skills through undertaking practice tasks but without direct instruction on how to complete those tasks.
  • Explicit learning takes place when you learn skills through direct verbal instruction on how to perform a task.

Why use implicit game-based training?

  • Elite players have better decision-making skills than lesser players.
  • Football is an ‘open’ skilled game, i.e. techniques are performed within a variety of situations.
  • Well-rehearsed techniques can often break down in a game under fatigue and pressure.
  • It is well documented implicit training – learning subconsciously from ‘doing’ and developing ‘experience’ in this way – more effectively translates into performance than explicit methods of instruction (structured drills).
  • In terms of player learning, the lessons learned in implicit games stay with players longer and are less likely to be affected by pressure/fatigue in games.

Features of implicit game-based training

  • Player-centred – coaches guide/facilitate players to explore options by asking questions.
  • The emphasis is on decision-making in certain tactical situations that might occur in a match.
  • Implicit learning – players often learn subconsciously by experiencing certain situations and ‘learning from mistakes’.
  • Indirect learning takes place through problem solving.

Player decision-making involves

  • Tactical knowledge: What to do if ... (knowledge of the game/ rules/team plans).
  • Reading the play: Pattern recognition – the ability to see a play unfolding, and its likely outcome.
  • Movement cues – postural position of other players, e.g. tackling, kick direction.

The decision-making process

  • Scanning - quickly searching a visual display, e.g. high/low and left/right eye movements.
  • Perception - collecting and interpreting the scanned information.
  • Attention - identifying relevant stimuli/ignoring irrelevant stimuli.
  • Response selection - picking the best option to suit the tactical scenario.
  • Skill execution - performing a technique appropriate for a given situation.

How does game sense work?

  • A consistent technique can break down in game/competitive situations when exposed to ‘distractions’ (external and internal), such as pressure, fatigue, noise and visual stimuli. By practising a variety of scenarios in game settings, players learn to ignore such irrelevant stimuli, and focus on the relevant ones.
  • By providing tactical situations that are repetitive, players can improve their decision-making skills (e.g. when and where to pass/ run) through experience and learning from good and poor decisions. Such decisions become automatic, allowing more time to focus on executing skills. You need to make mistakes to learn

Coaching/teaching points

  • The coach establishes a learning environment and uses questioning and guided discovery to help players learn to address tactical situations.
  • Guidelines for developing game sense

    1. Have an aim or theme for each game. What are we trying to achieve?
    2. Use teams of two to six players to maximise the number of decisions they make – repetition.
    3.  Are there small scenarios that occur frequently in a game that you should be replicating?
    4. Timing – drills need to be long enough to allow plenty of repetition to develop the players’ experience and long-term recall of the specific situations.
    5. What are the main rules of the game? What’s the size of the area it’s played in? These can be adjusted during the game.
    6. Prepare variations for the game. For example, add another defender.
    7. Develop questions to assist in the learning process.
    8. Balance the introduction of new or difficult concepts and random practice

    Guidelines for teaching the game

    1. Explain the purpose of the game.
    2. Explain briefly (four to five points maximum) the rules and limitations of the game, such as the area of play and duration of the game.
    3. Let them play for a few minutes and observe (evaluate while observing).
    4. Consider whether the game is working. If not, how can you modify it? For example, change the size of the playing area, team sizes, positions or rules.
    5. Vary the level of pressure. For example, change the rules –extra defender(s), less space, the level of tackling.
    6. Ask individual questions during the activity or recovery periods; e.g. Was that your best option?
    7. Look for ‘teachable moments’: stop the game at appropriate points to ask tactical questions to the group. For example, how else could your team have defended that last play?
    8. Freeze the game to demonstrate a point, then rehearse and replay that scenario.
    9. Provide feedback on good and poor decisions. Question the players on how they think they performed.
    10. In giving feedback try not to ‘tell’ players where they went right or wrong – frame your feedback in the form of questions.

    Evaluate the game

    1. Did the game address the outcomes you set out to achieve? Why/why not? Consider areas such as technical skill practice, decisionmakingand physical conditioning.
    2. How could you modify the game to better address these areas?
    3. Was there sufficient repetition of skills?
    4. Was player involvement maximised?
    5. Can the game progress into a more advanced version?


    A coach’s role is to assist players in solving tactical problems,rather than solving the problems for them. Using questions will help guide players in the right direction.
    Questions should revolve around four key concepts:
    1. Time – when should you have done A, B or C? How long do you have to do each?
    2. Space (in possession) – how and where do you create space?
    3. How do you deny space (not in possession)?
    4. Risk – which option was best? Why? Does the score and time of game affect your decision?
    5. Execution – how should you have attempted that kick, handpass, shot? What was the best technique for that situation?

    Turn feedback into questions to direct and test a player’s learning.

    When, what, where, why, how?

    Individual learning question examples
    Who was the best person to pass to? (John). Why? (For example, he was the best long option or was one on one or in front of his opponent.)
    When was the best time to pass? Why? (After drawing a defender, as that created a free player.)
    Where was the best place to run? Why? (Wide to space, as it would drag your opponent out to open up space in the corridor.)
    What was the best way to pass the ball? (Short and flat) Why? (With less hang time the opposition is less likely to intercept the pass.)
    What was the best option? (Take the space) Why? (All teammates are marked or opposition has zoned deep in defence.)

    Team-based learning question examples
    What strategies did you use when in possession? Which ones worked well? Why?
    What type of defence did you use? How could you have done it better?
    What would you do differently if the opposition had zoned?
    How could you move the ball quicker?
    What can the attacking team do to create space better?
    What would you do differently if the opposition had three effective kick-outs in a row?
    What would you do if our team won possession of the ball in our half with two minutes left in the game?

    To develop strategy, we can tailor the games as follows:

    1 One team has to attack for a time (e.g. five minutes) or for a number of trials (e.g. six successes from ten trials).
    2 Give one group a task (unknown to the opposition), e.g. to use a zone defence only.
    3 Set a scenario, e.g. there are two minutes left in the game, with the attacking team up by two points.
    4 Have one team observe and evaluate tactics, or play experienced teams against inexperienced teams.

     Area  Aim        
    Technical skill Develop ability to  perform a technique more effectively, e.g. kicking, catching, kick outs, set shots
    • High repetition
    • More explicit learning
    • Often individual or simple drill-based
    Tactical skill (game sense) Develop ability to improve decision making and skills  under pressure
    • High repetition
    • More implicit learning
    • Practise under variable conditions
    • Small-sided games

    Team style of play Develop understanding of team plays that form  a framework in which  to make decisions
    • Low repetition
    • Large-sided games/walk-throughs/demos
    • More structured scenarios, e.g. throw-ins
    • Mix of explicit and implicit learning

'A coach’s role is to assist players in solving tactical problems,rather than solving the problems for them'