Game intelligence is measured by a player’s ability to make smart decisions on the pitch and make them quickly. A smart footballer aims to keep the game as clean as possible, minimizing energy expenditure while maximizing results. Essentially, game intelligence implies playing smarter, not harder.
Game intelligence comprises 3 skills:
5. Spatial awareness
Spatial awareness refers to a player’s ability to see space clearly across the entire pitch and utilize it to their advantage. What does it mean to see space clearly?
First of all, players need to be aware of the immediate space around them. According to the position of the ball, their own teammates, and their opponents, where should they be? Should they be moving into a space to receive a pass? Should they be drawing defenders away from their teammate who has the ball to create open space for them?
Secondly, intelligent players are always aware of where their teammates are and where they should be according to the positioning of the other team. There are two reasons they need to know where their teammates are and should be: (1) to tell them where they should be if they’re not there, and (2) to anticipate their teammate’s position and make a quick, instinctive pass almost without looking. In fact, scouts often look for this sixth sense of a footballer.
Finally, intelligent players are extremely aware of the geometry of the game. They know how to position themselves and others to make wide angles and easy passing opportunities for themselves while on offense and narrow angles and difficult passing opportunities for their opponents while on defense.
Spatial awareness is a complicated skill which encompasses many other skills absolutely essential to achieving success in football. In fact, spatial awareness is also closely related to the next game intelligence skill, tactical knowledge.
6. Tactical knowledge
Tactical knowledge refers to a player’s knowledge of the nature and structure of the game. This knowledge allows the best players to intelligently anticipate, plan, and strategize during a match. While spatial awareness helps intelligent players see their immediate opportunities, tactical knowledge contributes to a player’s ability to anticipate the future opportunities that will arise from each move.
For this reason, tactically intelligent players are great at maintaining possession and not only waiting for the right moment to attack, but also creating the right moment to attack. By anticipating the moves of their own players and their opponents, intelligent players can move the ball across the field, creating gaps in the opposing team’s defense until they have just enough space to attack.
Tactical intelligence is also critical to performing well on defense and perhaps even more important. On defense, players should constantly be assessing the field to accurately anticipate their opponents’ next moves. If they anticipate correctly, they can close down their opponents’ angles, prevent easy passes between them, and force them to make a mistake.
Tactical intelligence is especially important for center backs and central midfielders because these players are in the best position not only to see the entire pitch but also to communicate with and command their teammates. Nevertheless, extraordinary tactical knowledge is vital for anyone who really wants to achieve great success in football.
One of the best ways to acquire game intelligence is to train with different coaches and players at various times throughout the year. By doing so, players learn different perspectives and expand their strategic repertoire.
Many well-known club teams like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Manchester City offer summer camps and year-round camps where players get to learn to play according to the philosophies and tactical styles of these great teams.
7. Risk assessment
Risk refers to the fact that certain aggressive decisions could lead to loss of possession (or failure to regain possession in the case of diving or tackling on defense). When a team loses possession, each and every team member must expend extra energy until they regain control. Such aggressive decisions could lead to over expenditure of energy and inability to perform well for the full 90 minutes of the match. On the other hand, a complete lack of aggressive decisions in an effort to conserve energy and maintain possession could prevent the team from scoring goals and ultimately lead to a loss.
Intelligent players, therefore, are constantly assessing the risk and reward of their decisions on the pitch. Should we make the long cross into the box and hope that someone touches it into the net but risk losing possession? Or should we maintain possession and pass around the top of the box until one of our players has an open shot on goal?
Risk assessment, tactical knowledge, and spatial awareness are all complex skills that lead to smart, fast decisions, and, ultimately, game intelligence.
“I am not a perfectionist, but I like to feel that things are done well. More important than that, I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve, not only to please the coach and the fans but also to feel satisfied with myself. It is my conviction that here are no limits to learning, and that it can never stop, no matter what our age.”