Top players perceive the game in a different way, they are experts in their specific domain. Their subconscious mind is able to couple together essential cues at rapid speeds, while ignoring all non-essential information, as they process the information in real-time. Even the eye scanning patterns of these top performers differ from lower level players. These top performers make faster more accurate decisions, and have the ability to anticipate what is coming next using predictive information. However, maybe the most important key to high-level performance is perception. Top players perceive the game in a different way, which leads to choosing different actions. When the world famous Italian midfielder Pirlo looks down the field, he does not see the forward or winger, he sees the empty space to play the ball into. The idea that top players perceive the game in a different way, leads to this question; if we can get players to perceive the game in a different way will they improve? My answer is a simple yes. Can the average player become a top-player at their level if they perceive differently? My answer again would be a yes. How is that possible? First, let’s realize that the player still has experience in the soccer domain, so we are not starting from scratch. The challenge now is get the player to perceive the game in a different way. One way to change perception is to use of constraints in training. Let me give you an example, if your team has 10 seconds to score in the attacking 1/3, nothing about the actual game has changed, except now your decisions are altered by this 10 second time constraint. The normal solutions you would probably use won’t work, it now forces you to search for different solutions, and by searching for different solutions you must perceive differently. There are many different ways to use constraints to shift perception, and in return to develop players. Does a center midfielder perceive the game different than a right wingback? Can training a player in different positions change perception, and in return create a better player? Can we change perception by using video? Does it matter that video is not realistic to what the player see’s on the field?
Let me leave you with this. Allowing players absolute freedom in training will not lead to changing perception. Game-based trainings with real game cues are vital, but to change perception you must alter the freedoms of players, forcing them to change their perceptions.