How To Think Fast In Soccer (Improve Speed Of Play!)

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The best soccer is played at an incredibly fast pace. The ball moves quickly. The players move quickly. And if you can’t think and play fast, you’ll be left behind. 

As a player, if you take too much time trying to decide where the ball needs to go, you’re putting yourself at a massive disadvantage. The opponent will be able to steal the ball easily.

Alternatively, if you cannot think quickly in defensive situations, attackers will move easily past you, and you’ll be struggling to recover. 

A team full of players who can think quickly on and off the ball will find it much easier to keep the ball, score goals, and win games.

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 26, 2020: Andreas Christensen of Chelsea and Robert Lewandowski of Bayern pictured during the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League Round of 16 game between Chelsea FC and Bayern Munich at Stamford Bridge.

Make Fast Decisions In Soccer

There are infinite decisions to be made in every moment of a soccer game.

  • Dribble or pass?
  • Cross or shoot?
  • When do you need to run?
  • Where do you need to run?
  • Where should I be defensively?
  • Should I join my team’s attack or stay back to defend?

Every decision is important. Making the right one more often than not is what sets teams apart. Can you get by in a game making some wrong decisions? 

Sure. Both teams will inevitably make the wrong decisions throughout a game. Ultimately the team that makes the correct decisions will come out on top. 

Decision-making is crucial in all aspects of soccer. The speed at which you can make those decisions put you in a better position to positively influence the game and your team in a better position to win. 

A player who does not make fast decisions spends more time on the ball or figuring out where to be. 

  • Having to glance down at the ball can take valuable seconds, and you’re more likely to lose possession. 

If you play fast, you don’t have to spend time unnecessarily looking around at the ball or knowing where other players on the field are.

Fast-thinking players have anticipated and processed that information already. They can move the ball almost as quickly as they receive it.

Female soccer player thinking on the field

How to think fast in soccer?

You think fast in soccer by training and practicing fast. Sometimes starting slow, and gradually increasing speed. Thinking fast, in a sense, means not thinking at all. If you can’t think fast, you will spend too much time on the ball. 

Constantly working on fundamental skills like passing, dribbling, shooting, and defending will increase your ability to play fast. 

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Eventually, these skills should become second nature and improve over time.

22.06.2018. Saint Petersburg, Russian NEYMAR in action during the Fifa World Cup Russia 2018, Group E, football match between BRAZIL V COSTARICA in Saint Petersburg Stadium.
22.06.2018. Saint Petersburg, Russian NEYMAR in action during the Fifa World Cup Russia 2018, Group E, football match between BRAZIL V COSTARICA in Saint Petersburg Stadium.

How to make faster decisions in soccer?

To make decisions faster – when playing, training, or watching – make a mental note of how you could do better. Know what to expect. There are many drills and games that can be used in training to increase a player’s ability to make faster decisions. 

Regardless of your skill level, these drills are useful and can be modified to benefit any player to think faster.

Head – Catch – Brain Reaction Soccer Drill

This simple drill is more like a brain-game. Someone lightly tosses a ball towards the player. As they toss the ball they shout either “head” or “catch.” 

  • The player receiving the ball must do the opposite of whatever the thrower says. For example, if they say “head” the player heads the ball back.
  • If they say “catch” the player must catch the ball with their hands and toss it back.

Although the game is simple in its rules, it forces the player to think on their feet and concentrate to make the right decision. As players get more comfortable, the speed can gradually increase the speed at which they throw the ball.

The player who returns the ball the most without making any mistakes is the winner. 

This drill can be done in all aspects of the game by commanding a group of players with the ball to stop, control, turn, pass, dribble, or shoot. 

Quick Fire Passing
Quick Fire Passing

Passing lines – Copy & Play Soccer Drill

Many variations of passing lines can be helpful for players of all levels and abilities.

  • In its most simplistic form, this can be two lines of players facing each other, roughly 15 yards apart, with one ball.
  • One player passes to the other and follows their pass to the other line.
  • The player who receives the ball has two touches to pass it back to the other line and follow their pass.

Variations can be changed to a one-touch version or by making the player who passes the ball becoming a defender, and the player who receives the ball must attempt to dribble past. 

Power and finesse – Soccer Drill

This game gives players the chance to take three shots in quick succession with the objective to score as many goals out of three as possible. 

The aim of this drill is repetition in stages. This will help players react automatically to situations.

  • Players start about 25 yards away from the goal in this game with a ball.
  • They take one touch and shoot.
  • After shooting, they continue moving forward to just inside the 18-yard box, where they are fed a ball on the ground and have one touch to shoot.
  • Finally, they keep moving forward and someone roughly 5 yards away from the goal tosses out a ball, and the player has an opportunity to score from a header. 

Alternatively, keepers have three chances to save shots from various distances and angles – requiring quick decisions to be made.

These drills are great for training a player’s brain to anticipate and react quickly to many different scenarios. 

Soccer player speed dribbling away

How to improve speed of play in soccer?

Speed of play in soccer is improved through training, perfecting fundamentals, and replicating what you will see in a game. One of the best ways to incorporate all of these is through the use of small-sided games.

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Played in tight spaces with a reduced number of players, the lack of space increases the pace at which the game is played and forces faster decision-making. 

Some examples of small-sided-games are:


  • Futsal is a small version of a soccer game with even teams.
  • Usually, it’s played on a harder gym-like surface with a small, low-bounce ball meant to stay on the floor.
  • Because of the surface and the limited space, the game moves very quickly while replicating movements similar to a larger game.


  • Possession-style games are also great for increasing the speed of thought.
  • Having uneven teams (e.g. 3v2 or 4v2) and using a small space force the team with the ball and the team defending to act quickly.
  • To increase the speed even more, you can limit players to take only one or two touches.
  • Decision-making should improve the more the game is played.

4v2 drop-off

  • This is a fast-moving game with three teams of 4, two goals, keepers, and a 20×15 yard area.
  • The keeper starts the initial play by rolling the ball to the attacking team (with 4 players).
  • If they score, the defenders leave and a new set of two defenders comes on while the attackers start the other way.
  • If the ball goes out of play without scoring, the defending team adds two players and two players from the attacking team drop off.
  • Because the game is played in a tight space with high intensity, fast decisions are a requirement for every player.
  • Depending on the space and number of players, adjustments can be made to the size of the field or the number of players to fit the scenario. 

Restricting time, space, or number of touches will ultimately help improve a player’s decision-making. These restrictions force players to act quickly and those lessons will eventually translate to gameplay and speed. 

If you want to learn how to react quickly to difficult decisions in a game, it’s important to challenge yourself and replicate those situations in training.

When playing these games, it’s important that players have the opportunity to make mistakes. Playing quickly and in small spaces is going to lead to an increase in mistakes. Keeping the game moving means more repetition.

Stopping too often to go over coaching points will only make players over-think their next move. It’s important not to encourage creative freedom. 

Why do soccer players wear compression shirts
Soccer player with the ball looking for a pass

Decision-making tactics in soccer

Understanding your tactical role within a team will improve the speed at which you make decisions. If you, as a player, are confused about where you should be, you will continually make bad or slow decisions and potentially fatal mistakes. 

Coaches must be clear about their tactics and ensure players know their roles. In some formations, an outside fullback will be part of attacking moves.

They will press forward and support the midfielders and forwards. However, they leave their team vulnerable if they do not know the right time to press versus when to stay back.

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soccer player under a ball ready to head
soccer player under a ball ready to head

Improve anticipation in soccer

Part of decision-making in soccer is understanding how to think multiple steps ahead of your opponent. The ability to anticipate where the ball will go one or two passes after it’s left your foot makes your team difficult to defend.

  • Attacking players without the ball must be able to anticipate where they need to be in order to receive the ball, even if it’s a few passes away.

When you watch the world’s best, this is evident. Poland/Bayern Munich striker, Robert Lewandowski is a great example.

How Robert Lewandowski Scores His Goals • Tactical Analysis
Robert Lewandowski Fast Thinking and Movement

Even when his team is defending, he’s anticipating where he needs to be to receive the ball when they do win it back. Similarly, players should anticipate opponents’ passes to cut off passing lanes and take away as many options as possible when defending.

If you’re constantly reacting to where the ball goes, you’ll struggle to ever win the ball.

Soccer is about control; if you can anticipate where the ball is going or needs to go, you can control the game.

Make decisions – without making decisions.

“The best decisions aren’t made with your mind, but with your instinct.”

Lionel Messi

As the world’s best player, Messi understands that he does not have the time to think during a game.

Messi at FC Barcelona training session
Messi at FC Barcelona training session

He’s spent so much time perfecting his craft, that at this point, everything that he does is purely instinctual. 

The more that you work on playing faster and getting comfortable in tight situations, your decision-making will continue to get fast, and eventually, you will be playing with instinct. 

Soccer Analyst and Publisher at Soccer Blade | Soccer Blade | + posts

Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.

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Playing Soccer FAQ

Is soccer a contact sport?

While tackling with excessive force, charging, and striking opponents are illegal in soccer, players often overstep the boundaries. Although this generally results in appropriate sanctions being awarded, it doesn’t prevent significant contact from occurring.

What do soccer teams do at halftime?

At halftime, soccer teams exit the field. They return to their bench area. For youth teams, they may not have a locker room. However, many college and professional teams do head back to the locker room. 
The break is an opportunity for teams to collect themselves. They may talk about what is going well in the game, and what they need to resolve.

How do I join a soccer team?

Attend trials for schools, teams in your local area. If no trials are due, then contact the coach to see if you can join a practice. Search for local soccer teams and try a few to see if it suits your ability and it also needs to be a place that you would enjoy. Scholarships are also available depending on your age, ability, and location. 

Why does a soccer ball curve?

The angle and speed with which the soccer player’s boot strikes the ball determine how far the ball travels. The ball won’t curve or spin if the player hits it right in the middle with their foot following through in a completely straight line.

What are some injuries players get when playing soccer? 

The most common knee and ankle injuries are mild to severe sprains, strains, and tears. Other less common knee and ankle injuries include dislocations and fractures.

What are some ways to pass a soccer ball?

+ Inside foot: Using the area above and inside of the big toe.
+ Outside foot: This creates a spin on the ball to swerve the ball around players
+ The Laces: A powerful volley can be performed with a straight leg swing.
+ Spin: If the toes get underneath the ball with some force you create a backspin.
+ Back heel: Connect the heel with the ball to reverse play.
+ Header: Often used for clearing and shooting, but can be a creative passing move.
+ Body: Use any part of the body to deflect the ball into the path you desire.

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