What can football players learn from people like Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs?
Decision Fatigue is an interesting topic that hasn’t been talked about enough in football. We explained in an earlier blog, what a decision is and how we make decisions. This blog can be read here. Nowadays players make 1000s of decisions (estimations) each game. Each of these decisions can be a game-winning or game-losing decision. Therefore it’s important to strive to make as many optimal decisions as possible. But the tradeoff of making a lot of decisions is something that in psychology they call decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision-making1.
We already know that when you get physically more tired, the quality of your decisions will get worse. This is something that has been widely talked about in football and why a lot of trainers like to train physical abilities. But in recent years there’s also been done research that shows that if you have a session with a lot of decisions, by the end, the quality of your decisions will be worse. For example, this study2shows that passing decision-making got worse the more mental fatigue a player has. Or this study shows that the speed and accuracy of soccer-specific decision-making got worse when a player has mental fatigue3.
So what can you do to not have players who have decision fatigue? It’s widely known that famous people like Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and also Steve Jobs limited the number of decisions they had to make in a day. They for example have 10 pieces of the same shirt. They think that by limiting the number of decisions you make every day, you have more energy and therefore take higher quality decisions for the more important decisions during a day. In the case of football players, they should set up their lives outside of the football pitch in the best possible way as well. A lot of players already do this, with agents who take decisions, mental coaches, but also physical trainers that give them an exact program of what to do. But this only takes away all the decisions outside of the football pitch. The most decision fatigue for football players appears on the football pitch. So how can we make sure players won’t get the decision fatigue of the decisions they make on the pitch? What might be a solution is freshness, in recent years the term freshness has been discussed often. The theory behind this is to train less hard in certain periods to let the body recover to 100% (freshness) so players can perform better in games. With freshness people only talk about physical freshness, but less training means fewer decisions. So this contributes to less decision fatigue as well. But this is a temporary solution. Because less training can only be done for so long, otherwise you get something that’s called undertraining. You’re not able to play 90 minutes in the intensity that’s needed in football. With this the chance of injuries grows, but also the physical fatigue grows towards the end of a game what leads to making worse decisions again. Less training, also means fewer individual tactical decisions on training and therefore players won’t learn as much as possible and over a longer period, this will stall their development.
What we at Tactalyse think the solution is, is to carefully overload a player with decisions. This is what’s called progressive overload, this has been known for decades with physical trainers, every training you try to do a little more, either one more repetition, longer duration, or higher weight. After some weeks your body will adapt to this and you’ve increased your physical ability to perform this action. But with decision-making, this is a quite new concept. Few trainers try to increase decision stamina with their players. We know that Julian Nagelsmann is demanding a lot of the decision-making ability of his players in training. He for example gives players specific rules in training. It’s also said that he tries to never have the same training twice to keep stimulating the decision-making of players. The trade-off with constantly pushing the decision-making of players is seen with Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. After three very successful years, the players had so much decision fatigue that they couldn’t keep up anymore4.
That’s why at Tactalyse we work with an individual tactical periodization. To not let the player get decision fatigue. We progressively overload the decision-making of players, but we’re cautious to not introduce too much at the same time so players get too much decision fatigue. Introducing new individual tactics will make players think more about their decisions. This means their decisions will take more energy and they will reach decision fatigue faster. After a while, depending on how fast a player learns, these decisions will get automatic, the player takes them without thinking (to read more about this concept click here). This means the decisions won’t take as much energy and won’t cognitively drain them. At the same time, the player has been actively taking more decisions and has therefore trained his decision-making stamina. So when we introduce the next individual tactic, the player can take more decisions before reaching decision fatigue and has increased his decision-making ability. Then the progressive overload of the brain has been successful and the player his brain has adapted to the new baseline of decision making.
Decision fatigue is the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision-making. For example, this study shows that passing decision-making got worse the more mental fatigue a player has. Or this study6 shows that the speed and accuracy of soccer-specific decision-making5 got worse when a player has mental fatigue7.
Football players should set up their lives outside of the football pitch in the best possible way as well. A lot of players already do this, with agents who take decisions, mental coaches, but also physical trainers that give them an exact program of what to do. But this only takes away all the decisions outside of the football pitch. The most decision fatigue for football players appears on the football pitch. So how can we make sure players won’t get the decision fatigue of the decisions they make on the pitch?
At Tactalyse we think the solution is, is to carefully overload a player with decisions. We progressively overload the decision-making of players, but we’re cautious to not introduce too much individual tactics at the same time so players get too much decision fatigue. That’s why at Tactalyse we work with an individual tactical periodization.