Decisions, Decisions

There are a number of life skills that are best taught through sport, especially in Primary Schools when our habits and social skills are beginning to be formed. Communication, teamwork, empathy, competitiveness, tenacity etc. But what about decision making?

Decision making is something we do every day – What tie shall I wear today? What shall I have for tea? Should I take the A50 or the A52 this morning? All day to day decisions that we find the answer to from a variety of sources – Experience, knowledge, How I feel at a given point, what options are available to me at the time etc.

In PE, I am a firm believer that by the end of KS2, children should be able to show effective decision making in a variety of Sports. Not only because increased knowledge, application and understanding will help for a deeper love of Sport and exercise, but because its important. Important in life that children can evaluate the situation they are in and find the best way to move forward from it.

So how do we do that? I have just returned from watching a Year 6 class playing Hockey. They enjoyed it. They really enjoyed it! Year 6 doing what they should be doing – putting the skills they have learnt over the past 3 years into practice. Excellent. To an extent…

Yes, they were playing. Yes, they were scoring goals. Yes, they were tackling and yes, occasionally they were even passing. But were they making informed, sensible decisions? No.

A friend of mine, who works as a scout for a local professional football team once told me about a scouting mission he was sent on to look at a young boy playing under 7’s football on the park. This child had been recommended to the club and he was sent to assess him. “He’s the next Ronaldo” was the endorsement passed to the club.

So off the scout went to watch. And 10 minutes before the end of the match he left.

He reported back to the club. “No, we don’t want to sign this lad, but we do want to sign another lad that the team brought on at half time. He gets it.”

“Gets it” – Interesting. What exactly does he get?

Well, as the story goes, the boy who he was sent to scout was very skillful. He watched him play for the majority of the match, dribbling round the other team, shooting from distance – He scored 7 goals all in all. Yet, the scout wasn’t impressed.

On came the other boy at half time, seemingly lacking a bit of confidence, afraid to get stuck in, hung around the fringes of the play, received the ball and moved it on. And the scout loved him.

The scout was adamant on his decision. Yes, the player he originally went to see was technically gifted, but he never looked for a better option. Not once did he lift his head and see who else was available to pass to. Not once did he slow the game down to allow other players to get into a better position. Not once did he pass the ball wide to create space for the team to attack down the middle. In short, he only ever made one of two decisions – Dribble or shoot.

The boy who came on at half time did the one thing the scout wanted to see – He received the ball, lifted his head, assessed what was in front of him and made a decision that was for the good of the team. He was able to position himself to receive a ball (usually at depth) to allow him the required time and space to effectively assess his options and make an informed decision. Just what the scout wanted to see. Occasionally the decision he had made didn’t come off, but the fact he had seen the options and MADE a decision was the important thing.

Back to the Year 6 class – The game was so chaotic that nobody could make decisions, because nobody had time to process the information in front of them and choose what they best course of action was.

So we slow it down. We condition it. We turn it into Netball – Nobody can run with the ball and nobody can get nearer than a stick length to you when you have the ball. Instantly, we create time for us to make our decision. We have time to assess our options and see which will work best for us to give us the best chance of being successful. Our teammates have to move for us. In short, they give us options and we can choose which one to take. We can make a decision.

We use netball rules so that certain players can only go in certain areas of the pitch. This makes our teammates automatically create width and depth. They give us options and we have the time and information to make an informed decision.

Yes, we are simplifying the decision making process, but it is still a hugely complex process. “Pass the ball”

  • Where shall I pass?
  • When shall I pass?
  • Is the ball in the right position to be passed from?
  • Is the receiver in the right position to take it?
  • How far away are they, and therefore how hard do I need to pass?
  • Is the defender close enough to intercept it?
  • Am I in the right position to pass?
  • Do I really want to pass to that person?
  • Will they be able to do anything with it when they get it?
  • Are they going to get tackled or lose the ball if I pass to them?

Over time, we’ll relax the netball rules and allow players to dribble and tackle – but only when we are sure that they are ready to decrease the time available to make a decision. We’ll start with adding in the next rule of netball – 3 seconds on the ball, and then we’ll progress to walking hockey. Pressure is beginning to be applied, just not as fast. 

There is a reason you learn breaking distances for your driving test – It is the speed your brain can compute what’s in front of it and put the relevant action into place. Give yourself less time and the action will be too slow to be impactive.

There is a reason the waiter will come back to you after he originally gives you the menu – It is to allow you to study the options in front of you and make the best choice for you at that moment in time.

For the record, there are generally 6 attacking and defending principles that can transcend across most sports. These are: 



1) Width

1) Width

2) Depth

2) Depth

3) Tempo Management

3) Tempo Management

4) Creativity/Flair

4) Control/Restraint

5) Penetration

5) Denying Space

6) Mobility

6) Communication

It’s worth looking at your game play with these in mind. Not only will your pupils become better athletes, but you’ll be setting them up for a better future too.


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