Creating tactical awareness

Sep 26, 2017 | Tactics

In the previous blog we discussed the full extent of what tactics can entail. We highlighted the difference between team-level tactics and individual tactics. One of the conclusions was that players need to create a constant awareness of the situations unfolding around them on the pitch. If they don’t, their actions in a game will only be based on intuition, which can be correct, but can also lead to an error that could have been avoided. How can we create and develop that tactical awareness in players? What steps can we take towards tactical excellence?

In most youth academies, young players will never receive individual tactical feedback simply because of the lack of time and personnel that is needed to provide one-on-one instructions to all players. Tactics at team-level will be discussed a lot, but they have to learn their individual tasks and tactics implicitly. Implicit learning is the learning of complex information without awareness of what has been learned. This describes most cases of tactical learning perfectly. Players learn tactics through trial and error mostly, without being fully aware of the situations they were in. This is why they base their actions on the pitch on intuition. They have simply never been made aware of these situations.

This brings us to the four stages of competence. The first stage is applicable to these players that base their actions on their intuition. This stage is called: Unconscious Incompetence. This doesn’t mean that a player is incompetent per se, it simply means that they don’t know when, how or why they should perform a certain action. When a player finds himself in the same situation on multiple occurrences and performs a different action each time, he will be in this stage. The first step towards moving on to the next stage is acknowledging your own incompetence. The amount of time this takes will depend on the players’ will to learn and improve himself.

When the player recognizes his incompetence in this aspect, he will become Consciously Incompetent. Even if he still doesn’t quite understand when, how or why he should perform a certain action, he knows that he lacks the understanding. He also sees that he needs to improve his understanding in order to become a better football player. This stage can be characterized by making mistakes. Even if he doesn’t make more mistakes than before, he now realizes that he is making them, which will lead to him wanting to improve faster

The length of the second stage is hard to predict. It depends on a lot of factors, including the players’ intelligence and willingness to learn. Once the player gains the understanding of the situation, he will move into stage three: Conscious Competence. The player now knows what to do and why he needs to do it when the situation arises. However, completing the task still requires a lot of concentration from the player. After some time we reach the desired stage: Unconscious Competence. Now the player can perform the right action in the right situation every time, without even thinking about it. It has become a part of his game to know what to do.

As you can see, the process of creating tactical awareness takes time and a lot of effort. But at the end of the process, the skill is a part of the players’ skill-set. Without having to think about it, he will perform the right action at the right time, every time.


Written by: Mats de Leeuw den Bouter.