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Generating an Improved "Soccer IQ" in Today's Youth Players




How do we define a “good soccer player”? While the player’s technique and athletic abilities are mostly mentioned instantly, their “Soccer intelligence” remains widely disregarded. In this blog, Coach Ellis Riley, founder of “Soccer IQ”, explains to you why the cognitive aspect of the game is especially important.

It is no secret that the greatest players we have ever seen have always been the most intelligent. ‘Soccer Smart’ is no myth. Players who are able to understand, pick apart, and truly analyze the game as it develops are those who we see as “forward thinkers” in the game.

A huge issue amongst Youth soccer today is the lack of cognitively developed players coming through the grassroots system. Now, has this always been an issue? Some may argue so, but why has the dispute become more prevalent in recent times?

These days we relate the tag of being an ‘Athlete’ to something perceptually ‘superior’, and of course this ideology would hold accurate for a u14 winger who is 5’8 and can sprint 100m in 12 seconds… But as coaches, we must look to analyze deeper into the cognitive skillset of our players.

"Can our players make these types of decisions within 3-5 seconds of receiving the ball?"

Coaches must look to analyze thoroughly… Does the player check their shoulder and understand the value of finding pockets of space? Do they have the mental confidence to play in tight spaces and appear ‘comfortable’ turning away from pressure? Do they paint mental pictures of their next movements before the ball arrives at their feet? Are they capable of playing a pinpoint through ball under pressure? Can they receive the ball and play at the same rhythm using both feet? Are they balanced at varying speeds of dribbling? Finally, can our players make these types of decisions and produce these skillful technical concepts within 3-5 seconds of receiving the ball?

Players at youth levels develop drastically, at different speeds and times. Messi is a prime example. As is Andrea Pirlo, who dominated Europe as a central midfielder for many years. If stood side by side with Ronaldo, and you’re asked to pick out the ‘athlete’ based on physical appearance, there is no contest… But It Is almost equally important to recognize that the brain eventually takes over in terms of processing. At youth level we hear parents and coaches make comments like “his feet were moving faster than he could think”, and this is when our players must spend more time trying to elevate their cognitive side of the game to complement their athletic attributes. If our youth players are not encouraged to study the game, learn how to think quickly, and make decisions based on visual cue’s around them, then they will not learn to appreciate or respect the game enough.

"One small movement without the ball can make a priceless impact for themselves or a teammate."

Too many of our athletes today are labelled ‘good players’ because they can run the straight lines fast, and physically dominate opponents, but not enough are labelled for their creative, flexible, and open-minded mentality to the game. Our players need to see the value of what they do off the ball, all too often they are fascinated with their need to do something with it, yet one small movement without it can make a priceless impact for themselves or a teammate.

We must try to give our players a strong cognitive base of understanding, allowing them the time to think, and analyze their own game. Watching games, studying movement patterns, Soccer Intelligence is a mindset, training the eyes to visualize the game with & without the ball, training the brain to paint multiple pictures within one, and training the player to understand the purpose of a forward thinking cognitive approach.

Coach Ellis Riley

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This article was written by Coach Ellis Riley, founder of “Soccer IQ – Ahead of the Game”. Find more info on his website, Twitter page or on our Blog.

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