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Helping decision making using Conditioned games

posted Jun 22, 2011, 2:51 PM by Kevin Brassil
14th April 2011
 In recent times there is a push for more intelligent Gaelic football players. The process of decision making is the key to intelligent play. Often sideline comments will be made as to why a player made a particular decision which was clearly wrong………from the sideline. With this in mind, how are decisions made, what factors effect decision making and how can we as coaches adapt our current training programs to help benefit players.
In Gaelic football to be an effective player there are a number of different skills that are required. These skills can be of a closed or open nature. Skills are considered to be closed when external factors are stable and have a limited effect on the skill being executed, such as a free kick. In closed skills there is little or no decision making, as the technical aspects of the skill is most important. Open skills are when external factors are stable and variable, they have an influence over the skill or skills being executed. Skills of an open nature require decision making. The majority of skills required in the game of Gaelic football are open skills. For example, to pass the ball to a team-mate a decision is required, how far to pass, when to pass, how hard to pass, what type of pass etc.
A variety of factors can contribute to a player’s decision making abilities. By having an effective training program which is designed to influence these factors, the player’s ability to make correct decisions will be improved.
It is one of the coach’s major responsibilities to assist his players in skill development. Skill development is a two fold process, firstly providing the players with the range of technical skills they will require (skill execution) and secondly the knowledge of how and when to use the appropriate skills (decision making). At an elite level less time will be spent to technical skill development and more to decision making, the opposite is the case for less skilled players who are required to spend more time on the basic skills that will support their decision making in the future. Before a player can effectively make the correct decision he must be competent in using the range of skill which may be required.
To effectively coach decision making a progression should be followed. The first step is to have the players gain the technical skill or skills to be used.
This can be done using blocked training drills in which a single skill is performed and repeated.
kicking drill were 6 players are put inside a 40 metre grid. The players move around inside the grid and are only allowed to kick the ball to each other. Every time a player kicks the ball he must go outside the grid by going around one of the corners and back inside the grid as quickly as possible. This provides the kicking player with more space to kick the ball into.
Players are asked to work inside a space rather than in a line. They are working inside a space during a match so make them work inside spaces as often as you can during training.
The progression from this stage is to initiate random drills in which a number of skills are required. For example a grid drill again in which players can kick the ball, hand pass the ball, solo the ball or bounce the ball. The random training is still in a controlled environment in which the players are making decisions randomly rather than due to what is in front of them. Random training is more effective than blocked training for skill acquisition due to the players having to recall how to do the skill each time rather than simply repeating the skill each time.
These types of exercises should be used during your warm up phase of training as players are not being asked to move to quickly, are not being tackled and can perform the skill at their own pace.
The final progression is to place the players in a situation that requires him to decide which skill will be most effective given the situation in front of them. Modified drills or games allow the coach to manipulate the environment to ensure particular skills are required and to ensure appropriate cues are there for the players to read. By playing modified games or performing modified drills players are able to learn specific cues, in a contested situation which will encourage the desired technical skills achieve a positive outcome. In this situation the player can not only continue to work on the technical aspect of skill development but also on his decision making ability.
Game specific decision making games not only improve skills under pressure but they also improve decision making and a number of other important skills associated with games such as problem solving, risk taking, perception and vision and also tactics. The games can be designed in such a way that the desired coaching objectives are achieved. This can be done by adding or subtracting constraints to the game such as team numbers, field size or shape, direction of passing, time in play or any number of conditions you may come up with.
The amount of games you can use are only limited to your own imagination.
If we go back to our initial warm up using the grid and the kick pass only. What if we were to put one of the six players in the grid as a defender? His task is to put the five remaining players under pressure by trying to win back the ball. The five players are still only allowed to kick the ball and still must go outside the grid after every kick. They are now faced with the situation of were to pass it, when to pass it, how hard to pass it etc. The defender remains as a defender for a specific time ( 30seconds ). Players then rotate and act as defender once.
More pressure can then be added by now putting two defenders into the game making it a 4 v 2 possession game. Players again must only kick the ball and make decisions throughout the modified drill.
This can then be further enhanced by making it 3 v 3. We have slowly built up the pressure and quality of the decisions being made so that it is more like a real match. The players have less time to make their decision as they are being tackled and they have fewer options to choose from as to who to pass the ball to and were to pass it to.
This type of modified drill can be used for most skills. We could have the same set of drills for hand passing only or for whatever skill you wanted to develop.
Most coaches would be aware of the five man weave were groups of players are asked to run in one direction while hand passing the ball left or right in a forward direction towards another group of 5 players waiting in line.
While this is a good drill for developing the timing of the hand pass, the angle of the pass and all round anaerobic fitness, it requires little or no decision making. Could we change this drill so that players have to make decisions?
-What if we were to put two defenders inside the middle of the drill? 
-How will this now affect the running of the five man weave?
-Will players continue to run nice angled patterns to get the ball to the next group?
-Do players now have to make decisions on when to pass the ball or who to pass it to?
This type of drill can then be developed into a game. The game is played in a similar size area, 50 * 30 metres. The game is played up and down the area. Eight players are involved inside each area. Five of the players are attackers and three are defenders. The object of the game is to move the ball up and down the area trying to score points by either running the ball through gates or by fisting the ball over a set of small goals. The five players are at an advantage as they have more players, however they must constantly make the right decisions in order to make this advantage pay off. The game last s for around 3 minutes depending on the fitness levels of players involved. The players then change roles and take turns attacking and defending. Lots of different decisions are being made similar to those in a match.
As an attacker
-Do I kick the ball long to the free man up front?
-Do I hand pass the ball to the runner?
-Do I try to draw out the defender and lay the ball off wide to the outside man?
-Do I try to go past the defender?
As a defender
-Do I drop back and defend my goal line?
-Do I push up high and defend early?
-Do I mark the extra man out wide?
All of these questions require answers. The better decision makers on your team will always make the right decisions. Your job as a coach is to equip your players with the knowledge to make right decisions. There is no point in asking a player to make the right decision in a game if he has not been given the opportunity to do this in a training session What you do in training will impact on what the team does in a match situation. If players are constantly being trained using linear drills and non decision making exercises then that is what they will reproduce in a match.
Coupled with this we must give players the opportunity to make mistakes. Their next action will be based on what they did wrong. The more times they get to remedy their mistakes in training the better chance you have of them getting it right on match day. Try to challenge player’s decision making. Put them outside their comfort zone.