Performance in sport is characterised by the ability to make the right decisions under pressure. Indeed, if you consider sports currently in the headlines with the FIFA 2014 Football World cup in Brazil, the All England Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, and the recent Cricket Test Match Series between England and Sri Lanka effective decision-making in all three is key.
However, historically the notion of the ‘right’ decision has not been well articulated. In the UK in particular coaching has often focused on good technique rather than effective performance. While the two may be linked they are not inextricably so.
Ultimately in sport the right decision is an effective one. Effective decisions are composed of two distinct aspects. The selection of the appropriate response and its execution. The wording here is important, referring to an appropriate response rather than the ‘right’ decision is key. An effective response for one performer is not necessarily going to be the right response for someone else. There are a range of factors that influence what an appropriate response might look like. These include the skill/technical strengths of the individual, their personality, past experience, the tactics employed, the scenario / context, and the individuals strengths. All of which serves to determine what an effective response might be. This is though only half of the story. You then have to execute the selected response. If you do not execute the response effectively then it becomes a poor decision. So a good decision involves the selection of an appropriate response and then executing that skill effectively.
This is where effective practice comes in. It is right that coaches focus on developing good skills. Performers need to be able to execute their skills consistently. The focus should be on ‘their’ skills though. Every person is different. We differ in physical characteristics (height, weight, power output, range of movement etc) and mental characteristics. So, while a performer might not look technically perfect or select the ‘usual’ response they can still be very effective. Practice is the key. Coaches allowing performers to individualise more will lead to great levels of consistency in terms of skill execution. Once this fundamental baseline is achieved the focus should then be on practicing to perform. The best way to develop decision-making (the deployment of these skills effectively at the right time) is to engage in the real thing. If this is not possible then practice needs to mirror performance as much as possible. This is how performers can learnt to select appropriate solutions to the problems they encounter during performance, and to practice their ability to execute the required actions when needed.
So as a coach make sure you think about how to enhance decision-making for performance as well as skill development. This way you can develop the most effective performers.