Decision-making speed and soccer IQ may be synonymous.  It is something I think about on a regular basis.  I try finding connections between those players I train that have these qualities and those who seem to lag behind.

The following is an excerpt from a best selling book by author Dan Coyle on the physiological reasons on why some athletes work at higher speeds, as well as on how to help your players develop increased processing speed.  I’ve added some comments from my own educational background that are closely related to these finding.

It’s a relatively long article, but absolutely worth while.  Read and chew on it- I believe it will be greatly beneficial.

Here it is:


The following is a brief adaptation from the book, “The Talent Code – greatness isn’t born. it’s grown. here’s how” by Daniel Coyle.

Inside the brain information is transmitted through neurons. Human skill is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse from the brain to the body through these neurons.
Myelin: what is it?  Myelin is the insulation that wraps around the nerve fibers in our brains and increases signal strength, speed, and accuracy.
What makes myelin grow? Myelin is produced by a person thinking about and analyzing skill situations themselves.   The myelin sheath wraps around the fibers that speed up decision making and reaction time, which makes the signal react faster and stronger.
All human skills are created by linking nerve fibers in your brain that send a signal to your muscles. Myelin plays an important role by serving as an insulator for these fibers. the signal becomes stronger and faster as fewer of these electrical impulses leak out.
In soccer, with each repetition, myelin responds by wrapping layers around the nerve fibers. With each additional layer of myelin added, the player increases the ability to process the soccer specific skill required.
Deep practice: this means training on the edge of your capabilities. Training outside the comfort zone will lead to mistakes being made as players learn to perform tasks they are not fully comfortable with yet. These mistakes will ultimately create an individually better player.  [When I, Camilo, was in education we called this instructional level.  “Instructional Level” or “Learning Level” is when students are working on appropriate level material.  As an example, if we have players working on tic-tocs, most of them will get into a mode where they are executing the skill on automatic pilot; in other words they’re working at a comfortable pace that is unchallenging to them.  As an observer we may think, “Not bad, the player has established a good rhythm and isn’t making any mistakes”.  The problem with this is that when a player gets to this point, they have plateaued developmentally.  For us to help them get to the next level we have to get them to work at “Instructional Speed” which is the speed where learning takes place.  In Instructional Speed, players are making some mistakes.

1. Frustrational Speed:  This is where the demands of a particular activity are too high, resulting in a high amount of mistakes.  Here players are over-challenged and MUST decrease speed.
2. Independent Speed:  This is where the demands of a particular activity are too low, resulting in virtually no mistakes.  Here players are under-challenged and MUST increase speed.
3. Instructional Speed:  This is that pocket/zone at which players should be working.  Here, there are neither too many mistakes (leading to frustration) nor too few mistakes (leading to boredom).

Consequently, our challenge as coaches is to identify who is where, and push accordingly.

Article Continues…
As deep practice takes place, the player is wrapping even more myelin around each circuit and increasing their skill. Simply put: mistakes, and correction of them, lead to skill acquisition. By giving players limited space and time creates quicker and better decisions. Players perform out of their comfort zones, with much less time and space so they have to think and play quicker.
for example: small-sided games and small space exercises provide players with far more individual contact with the ball, which is why they are so important to do, especially at younger ages, in order to create deep practice.
Deep practice increases the speed of skill acquisition, becoming 100 times faster than practices that simply incorporate technical drills of the same repetition without deep thought.
Deep practice is very important for players 6-14 years of age. Their spacial awareness and ability to understand tactical concepts is still developing, and they have an unlimited capacity to acquire and develop new motor skills. So repetition of themes in small-sided games is crucial, and especially in the “sweet spot” on the edge of the comfort zone that produces errors, but also teaches skill through this.
a major drawback of poor technical training at young ages is that myelin does not unwrap, it only wraps. Myelin is the reason bad habits can be difficult to break in older players. Therefore, technical developmental in deep practice is critical. Where technical skill development is the focus and players are developed with correct technical habits that stay with them.
Players’ bad habits equally stay with them if developed at a young age. so, the ages 6-14 are the most important in the technical training of players, and can significantly affect players’ development and abilities in future years.
Ignition: This is the motivational fuel that generates the energy, passion, and commitment to deep practice. Ignition and deep practice work together to produce skill: ignition supplies the energy, while deep practice translates that energy into forward progress, a.k.a. wraps of myelin. This is ignited and inspired by high quality coaches.
High quality learning environment and coaching: good coaches create an active learning environment where the players are actively engaged and are educated through a variety of teaching methods.
Children retain only 18% of concepts learnt passively; but 68% of concepts learnt actively. Remember deep practice needs to be on the edge of the players comfort zones, and maintained in game related skill developing situations.
Building myelin takes time, and putting ourselves in a position to fail, fix mistakes, and fail better (and get closer to the ultimate solution) and to continue this process until we accomplish the task; is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to build myelin. Myelin production boosts the brain’s efficiency by increasing the speed with which a signal travels down the nerve fibers by up to 100 times. 100 times faster!! It is therefore imperative that we try to help build this in a player’s mentality?
So what does this mean in terms of learning behavior? Through deep practice, and the encouragement of players to solve problems, and by working hard through their mistakes, players train the mind to work faster and more efficiently.
This process must be started at the youngest age possible, with players and coaches taking the responsibility to ensure that the youngest age groups begin and continue good habits of deep practice. In order to do this we implement specific practice. This increases the layers of myelin to add more skill and speed. An example of specific practice is: practicing the same soccer specific theme repetitively, initially as a technique, then as a skill in opposed practices and in games.
The thicker the myelin gets the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become.
No doubt you will have heard that to make a person an expert at something they need to do a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. Deep practice x 10,000 hours = world class skill. There are no guarantees for this; but this is the kind of effort and focus required to become successful. This is the ten year / ten thousand hours rule.
The rules of deep practice are: try again, fail again, fail better; keep trying, succeed. In other words allow players to fail and make mistakes, and to learn from them in practice.
Making and correcting errors and constantly generating solutions to ongoing problems is critical. The game is dynamic; situations change every second, new decisions have to be made every second. this occurs in deep practice: the more focused you are in practice, the more decision making situations you find yourself in. the more thought it takes to solve problems, the more myelin is grown, and the faster the body and brain processes them. The will lead to better the decisions made more often.
Three key ingredients for skill acquisition and development are required to build myelin wraps to speed up, strengthen and improve accuracy of decision making:
? deep practice ? ignition ? high quality learning environment and coaching
all must be present to facilitate the maximum growth of myelin and enable subsequent skill development

Soccer IQ ,Decision Making Speed .