How Sports Build Decision-Making Skills On and Off the Field

How Sports Build Decision-Making Skills On and Off the Field

Because games are so fast-paced, athletes don’t always have the time to think deliberately. Rather, they react instinctively or need to make rapid decisions based on prior game experience or practice time.

Practice makes perfect, they say. This doesn’t only apply to honing skills but also in developing decision-making skills. The more that athletes train themselves to make quick decisions, the better they become at getting their reflexes and mental state to work cohesively.

The decision-making skills they develop through sports can be applied in life and significantly affect the way they approach problems they encounter in everything from school, relationships, and someday, work.

Athletes who are good decision makers don’t just allow things to happen. Instead, they work to take control of situations to make things happen in their favor. Here is the process that athletes work through to make quick decisions and resolve problems:

  1. Recognize there is a problem
    Athletes see that there is a problem that needs to be solved. They understand that a shift needs to happen for them to improve the situation and recognize the opportunity they have to be that factor that turns things around.
    2. Analyze the problem
    Once a problem has been identified, the athlete breaks evaluating the issue by breaking down what is causing it.
  2. Predict the outcome
    An athlete then examines what the possible outcomes are, forecasting the potentials.
  3. Consider alternatives

To create the result they are after and the one that works in their favor; athletes identify that there may be multiple approaches quickly. In just seconds, they envision various scenarios. Do they go left or right? Should they drive straight? Swing or not? Pass or take the shot?

  1. Choose the right option
    At this critical moment, the athlete pushes through with what they feel is the option that will result in their visualized outcome. This is the decision-making moment, and it was a matter of eliminating all the alternatives and choosing what they feel is the right one.
  2. Be accountable
    Whatever the outcome, the athlete needs to take ownership of the choice they have just made. Often, despite an athlete’s best efforts, their analysis, and positive approach to making a situation shift in their favor, it may not always work out for them. However, athletes need to be accountable for their actions.

The decision-making moment is critical because if an athlete does not take responsibility for the decisions they make, they are bound to make the same mistakes over and over again, often blaming outside forces rather than their inability to adjust to the situation. At this point, decision-making skills are improved and making the right decisions become instinctive and natural.


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