The Subject Matter: Decision-Making and Strategy

Studying decision-making in sports is made difficult by the proliferation of definitions that exist. There is an arbitrary use of the terms ‘decision-making’ and ‘strategy’, which can be observed both in sports practice and sports science. On that account, we suggest using the classification displayed in Figure 10.1.

The term strategy is defined as a long-term-oriented concept, such as training and competition planning and preparation (e.g., match plan), whereas decisionmaking relates to situational-based and in-the-moment problem-solving processes. The latter is differentiated into ‘what to do’ and ‘how to do’ decisions (Roth, 1988). The question of‘what’ or first-stage decisions refer to selecting a specific skill (e.g., a jump shot in handball). The ‘how’ or second-stage decision refers to the specific parameters of this selected skill (e.g., how to jump). Consequently, second-order decisions coincide with the issue of skill acquisition and systematic skill practice.

In this chapter, we focus on decision-making, where we follow a situational and action-oriented approach. Starting with a look at different sports, it becomes

Strategy and decision-making in sports games

FIGURE 10.1 Strategy and decision-making in sports games: systemic design with actors and goals (Memmert and Konig, 2019, p. 221).

clear that, principally, decision-making has no significance in some individual sports such as golf or gymnastics. However, decision-making processes become increasingly important when there is a shift in the temporal structure of sport (i.e., simultaneous actions and/or readiness to respond to another’s impending action) and the opening of space restrictions (e.g., long-distance running in track and field). In combat sport (e.g., fencing) and game sports (e.g., soccer), there is a primacy of decision-making (Memmert and Roth, 2007). This means that individual physical and technical performance components only come into play in an interaction with the decision-making component (Roth, 1988).

In game or combat/opposition sports, decision-making has been differentiated into two areas of competence: Divergent tactical thinking or game creativity and convergent tactical thinking or game intelligence. They are differentiated as follows:

  • Divergent tactical thinking (tactical creativity): Players develop versatile and variable solutions for game situations because standard solutions limit successful performance in the long run. This divergent ability to think or be tactically creative is regarded as the basis of game intelligence (Memmert and Roth, 2007).
  • Convergent tactical thinking (game intelligence): Players select a solution adequate from a ‘list’ of opportunities for action for a situation in which they have to act (Roth, 1988). This solution should lead to the desired effects. This ability is mainly based on sport type-specific knowledge and experiences (Memmert and Konig, 2007).

Individual decision-making exercises must refer to the training of both types. In practical situations decision-making has been viewed as a matrix: On the one hand, this matrix considers the twofold goal of team and racket sports and differentiates between defending and attacking tactics, and on the other hand, the matrix integrates complexity-based tactics, leading to a differentiation between individual, group and team tactics; this systematization is displayed and explained in Table 10.1.

TABLE 10.1 An approach towards structuring tactics for practice (Memmert and Konig, 2019, p. 223)

^ Perspecti ve

Stage of

Defence tactics

Offence tactics

Individual tactics

Acting offensively or defensively

Scoring or passing

Group tactics

Moving towards the ball in basketball

Pick and roll in handball

Team tactics

Team line-up, e.g., 3-2-1 in handball

Team line-up, e.g., 4-1- 3-2 in soccer

In summary, tactical intelligence describes the selection and realization of game actions (see Roth, 1988) and it is classified and structured within a theoretical and practical approach to training. At present, there are almost no empirical and generalizable findings regarding the contextual design of group or team tactics. The only exception exists in soccer, where 585 recorded match situations were judged and commented on by head coaches (Memmert, 2014). These experts selected important positive and negative behaviours of different position groups (such groups consist of midfielders or players in certain areas of the field) without being aware of the fact that their coaching skills were evaluated. Through qualitative content analysis, tactical skills on the group level were allocated to superordinate basic categories using inductive categorization (Kuck- artz, 2014). Group tactical challenges could be identified that have to be solved through the cooperation of several team members (termed position groups).

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