Think Ahead in Soccer (In-Game Planning)

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The best soccer players know how to think ahead. This means that they know exactly what’s going on in the game, and they can plan what their next moves will be.

Thinking ahead develops from a good understanding of the game and an awareness of your surroundings.

These are some key points we’ll cover today:

  • Understanding and awareness in soccer
  • Expanding understanding
  • Developing awareness

If you work on these things, you’ll be able to think multiple steps ahead and leave your opponents behind.

Real Madrid v Manchester United UEFA Super Cup Ronaldo giving Marcelo advice
Real Madrid v Manchester United UEFA Super Cup Ronaldo giving Marcelo advice

How to think ahead in soccer

To think ahead in soccer, you need to expand your understanding of the game (soccer IQ) and develop your awareness.

These two things allow you to read the game well. And if you read the game well, you’ll be able to think ahead in soccer.

Understanding the game

Having a good understanding of the game means you know what can happen in different situations. You’ll be able to weigh up your options in those positions.

If you understand the game of soccer, you’ll be best placed to think ahead during a game.

For example, you might be a midfielder who’s running with the ball towards the opponent’s goal.

If you understand soccer, you’ll know what options you have based on what’s happening around you.

You’ll know what the opposing defenders can do to stop you, and you’ll know what runs your attackers can make to receive your pass.

This information allows you to think ahead.

You’ll know what can happen if you pass to your attacker. If you decide to keep running with the ball, you’ll know which defenders can try to tackle you.

You’ll also know which angle they’ll be able to tackle from.

All this information is gold and helps you to think ahead.

So, you want to understand the possible outcomes from different situations. Then, you’ll be able to think ahead in soccer.

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Luis Muriel Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio TACKLE Lorenzo Insigne SSC Napoli SSC Napoli vs Atalanta BC at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Naples Italy February 03 2021 ○ Soccer Blade

Awareness of the game

Having awareness on the soccer field means you know what’s going on around you. Awareness works together with understanding the game. And both make it easier to think ahead in soccer.

  • Now, let’s stay with the above example of you as a midfielder running towards the goal.
  • And let’s say you have a great understanding of soccer. But let’s add to the example that your awareness isn’t good.
  • So, you don’t know what’s happening around you.

Without good awareness, you won’t know where the opposing defenders are. And you won’t know where your attackers are.

That means you won’t know what the defenders can do to stop you. Also, you won’t know what runs your attackers can make for a pass.

This lack of information makes it super hard for you to think ahead.

If you don’t have information about what’s happening on the field, you can’t effectively think ahead.

Watching Soccer

Playing or watching a lot of soccer, you’ve likely heard about ‘getting your head up’ or ‘looking up’ from coaches – ‘eyes up’ is another term that’s used.

These are linked to awareness. Seeing what’s going on in the game inputs the information you need to think ahead and make the best decisions.

So, without having that awareness you can’t think ahead in soccer.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in action in his testimonial game Manchester United vs RCD Espanyol
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in action in his testimonial game Manchester United vs RCD Espanyol

How to expand your understanding of soccer

To expand your understanding of soccer (soccer IQ), you can play, practice, and watch games.

The more you do these 3 things, the more you’ll expand your understanding of the game. And understanding soccer allows you to make the best decisions.

Playing and practicing soccer is the best way to improve your soccer IQ.

This will give you real-life lessons about different situations. Over time, you’ll learn the best outcomes in different situations.

When you’re playing, try to absorb as much information as possible. This will help you gain a better understanding of the game.

During practice, think about what you’re doing. Use the practice to get your body and mind working together.

  • Think of practice as a chance to identify what you should do in a particular situation and then do it repeatedly.

This type of practice allows you to identify the right decision and then practice doing it until it becomes second nature. Then, during a game, you can make the right decision without thinking.

Decision-making is a key component of understanding soccer and thinking ahead.

Check out our article on making decisions fast for a more detailed look at decision-making.

But watching soccer games will give you a good education, too. Watch the pros closely and note what decisions they make in certain situations. Learn from them and improve your soccer IQ.

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Female soccer player thinking on the field

How to develop your awareness in soccer

To develop awareness in soccer, you can work on these 4 things:

  1. Scan the field before getting the ball
  2. Keep an open body position
  3. Keep your eyes in front of the ball when dribbling
  4. Look up after taking bigger touches

Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas.

1. Scan the field before getting the ball

If you scan the field before getting the ball, you’ll be more aware of your surroundings. As we’ve already seen, knowing what’s going on around you allows you to think ahead.

So, before you get the ball, scan the field. Look up ahead, check to your sides, and especially don’t forget to check over your shoulders.

This last one is very important. Get into the habit of checking over your shoulders. If you don’t do it, an opposing player can run up behind you and steal the ball without you being aware of them.

Think of scanning the field as making a mental map of your surroundings.

Knowing what’s happening around you is having great awareness.

2. Keep an open body position

This means that you’re facing the field. Say, for example, you’re an attacker. You don’t want your back to be facing in the direction you want to attack when you’re getting the ball.

You want to be facing towards the goal, so you can see what’s going on in front of you. That way, you’ll be aware of your surroundings. You’ll be able to see the positions of the defenders.

Watch an attacker making a run to receive the ball.

They’ll have their body open to the goal and will look over their shoulder for the pass.

This allows them to be aware of their surroundings, behind and in front.

3. Keep your eyes in front of the ball when dribbling

When you’re dribbling, you’ll have to look at the ball sometimes. To develop your awareness when you’ve got the ball, try looking in front of the ball instead of directly at it.

This allows you to see the ball, but it also allows you to see beyond the ball.

So, you’ll be more aware of your surroundings. If you look in front of the ball when you’re dribbling, you can see an opposing player approaching.

You’ll only see them in your peripheral vision, but you’ll still be aware of them.

Practice looking in front of the ball when you’re dribbling to develop your awareness.

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4. Look up after taking bigger touches

Sometimes when you’re running with the ball, you can take bigger touches to knock the ball ahead. But make sure you look up when you do it. It means you’ll be aware of your surroundings.

If you take a big touch and are running after the ball, you can look up to see where your teammates are. Or where defenders are. This will help you make a good decision moving forward.

Remember, awareness is about knowing what’s going on around you.

Don’t run after the ball blindly, look up and view your surroundings. As we know, it’ll help you think ahead and plan your next move.

To get an idea of taking bigger touches, check out this video of Gareth Bale’s goal against Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final.

HOW BALE DESTROYED BARTRA'S CAREER

Notice how Bale looks up and takes in his surroundings to think ahead. And his understanding of the game allows him to make the best decision.

That’s how you think ahead in soccer. You expand your understanding of the game and develop your awareness. Work on the things we discussed, and you’ll be able to think ahead when playing soccer.

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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Soccer Tactics FAQ

Can you block in soccer?

You can block a pass, shot, cross, or throw-in. It’s legal to block the ball using any part of the body other than the hands or arm (up to the shoulder). 

Why do players fake injuries? 

Although it’s disrespectful to opponents and fans, some players fake injuries to win a free kick or penalty, sometimes to stop a counter-attack, also to waste time to run the clock down, and they might try to get an opponent booked or sent off. 

How do you increase soccer awareness?

+ Scan the field before getting the ball
+ Keep an open body position
+ Keep your eyes in front of the ball when dribbling
+ Lookup after taking bigger touches

Why do soccer players and coaches cover their mouths when talking?

Soccer players hold their mouths when talking for 3 reasons: To keep conversations private from the public, Keep tactical discussions secret, and amplify their voices.

Why do soccer players raise their hands?

This is done to communicate with their teammates during a game for a pass, to say they are in space, plus to let teammates know what routine set-play is going to be taken. Players also raise their hands to celebrate a goal or signal that they are injured.

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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