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How to Strengthen Your Athlete's Decision-Making Skills

Whether it’s making a decision about how to properly prepare for a competition, practice a recovery plan, or stay away from shortcuts, good decision-making, although challenging to teach, is a skill that is critical to an athlete’s success.

According to the Decision Education Foundation (DEF), which seeks to empower youth with effective decision-making skills through curriculum and courses in decision quality, teaching teenagers how to decide is more effective than teaching them what to decide. For example, the popular D.A.R.E. campaign that was implemented in schools nationwide simply told adolescents about the negative effects of drugs and had adolescents sign a pledge to say no to drugs, but it didn’t have a significant effect on actually preventing youth from illicit drug use according to a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Chris Spetzler, DEF Executive Director, recommends helping students understand how to make better decisions as the first step to “increasing their thoughtfulness when engaging their values, creativity, and critical thinking in making and following through on their personal choices.”

As a coach, it’s important to develop an understanding of the decision-making process, as this will better equip you to help shape the way your athletes approach decisions on the field and throughout their lives. DEF explains that there are six elements that must be considered in order to reach a quality decision, including helpful frame, clear values, creative alternatives, useful information, sound reasoning, and commitment to follow through.

Keeping in mind these six foundational elements of a good decision, here are five DEF exercises we’ve tailored for coaches to use at practice with their team to help strengthen an athlete’s decision-making skills:

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