How to Improve Vision and Decision Making in Football

Scanning is the key to improving your vision and decision making on the pitch.

The Most Important Skills you aren’t Training: Vision and Decision Making

How many hours do you spend a week training your technical skills? Your dribbling, first touch, passing, shooting? I imagine quite a lot. While these skills are all super important if you want to make it as a professional footballer, would you be surprised if I told you that there are other skills that you use more in your game, which you hardly ever practice?

The fact is, that in a football game, you’ll only spend about 2 minutes of the match on the ball, and that’s if you’re lucky. The other 88 minutes are spent off it. While you of course need to make the most of those 2 minutes on the ball, if you don’t perform off it, you could turn a great performance into an average one. 

This is the reason why vision and decision making are the two most important skills a football player can have. These are the two skills that you’ll be using for the majority of the game. Whether it’s using your vision to spot a runner from the opposing team, or your decision making to decide whether or not to press, these two skills form the fundamentals of your time off the ball.    

Vision and Decision Making Aren’t Natural Abilities 

As you continue to progress as a young footballer, you’ll usually find that the majority of other players around you are extremely technically gifted. With modern coaching, and tonnes of training information easily available, this is no surprise at all. What separates the good from the great however, are those skills that are hard to train. 

Skills like vision and decision making are incredibly hard to coach, and even more difficult to learn as a player training alone. Because of this, many people believe that they’re natural, or inherited abilities. - The truth is that they’re not. 

These skills definitely can be learned and improved over time, the fact is that not enough players know how to.

The Secret to Improving Your Vision and Decision Making? Scanning

So if these skills aren’t natural, but are still both incredibly hard to learn, how does a player improve them? The answer lies in training a skill that links them together - scanning.

What is Scanning?

Scanning is a when a player temporarily directs their attention away from the ball to take in extra information. This could be checking the position of an opposing player, looking for a gap in the defensive line, or searching for a teammate to play the next pass to. 

It sounds simple right? All you need to do is look away from the ball. But it’s actually more complex than you might think. You see, scanning is all about timing. There is an optimum time to look away from the ball, and also a time when your eyes should be glued to the ball.

To make it simple:

LOOK AT THE BALL: When your teammate or opponent is touching it. This is the moment when the ball could change direction or speed. You need to keep an eye on it to see where it’s going next.

LOOK AWAY FROM THE BALL: When the ball is moving. This could be after it has been passed, or in between your teammate’s touches.

If you want to see how this works in a game, take a look at this short video.

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if you’re able to master this one skill, you’ll see parts of the game that you never knew you could. You’ll become more aware of your teammates, opponents, and where the space is on the pitch. You’ll be more composed on the ball, and see runs earlier than before. In short, your vision and decision making will improve to no end. 

How to Improve Your Scanning?

So if scanning is the key to improving vision and decision making, how can you train it? While the best practice will always come from doing it in a game situation, there are a few things you can do regularly to improve. 

Training Football in Virtual Reality - Be Your Best

As I mentioned before, training your scanning can be an incredibly difficult task when playing alone. Matches can be the best opportunity, but let’s be honest, that only results in a couple hours of training per week at best. That’s where VR comes in.

VR training is still a fairly new concept, but it’s quickly taking over the world of football, with advances in technology allowing players to train an 11 a side game from their living rooms.  

Using an Oculus VR headset, players can subscribe to the Be Your Best trainer, where they’ll be able to practice their scanning on a virtual pitch. 

Using real life scenarios from Premier League and Champions League games, you can put yourselves in the shoes of a professional player, seeing the game from their point of view. In each scenario, you’ll be tasked with scanning the pitch at the correct moments, and making a good decision when you receive the ball. 

The other major benefits to using VR are that you can train anytime, anywhere, no matter what. Training cancelled due to bad weather? No problem, you can just spend 20 minutes training virtually in your living room. Maybe you’re injured? No problem again, with no physical load required to use the trainer you can stay sharp and active until you’ve fully recovered. You’re even able to train hours before a competitive game with no risk of injury or fatigue. 

All of these extra opportunities to train will definitely have a benefit in the long run. By training just 20 minutes a day, you could see yourself gain over 100 extra training hours compared to other players.

Scanning Drills - Building the Habit

While training scanning can be tricky, especially alone, there are still a number of drills and things you can do to start building the habit, helping to improve your vision and decision making skills.

Some of these things are super easy to implement and will instantly help you improve. Take a look at this video from Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son for example. Doing a simple passing drill in his warm up routine, you’ll notice that Son scans his shoulder after making each pass. 

As a youngster, Son’s father was known to have ingrained this scanning habit into him, making his vision and off the ball skills a top priority. Doing something as simple as this each time you have a passing drill is enough to start building a scanning habit. If you repeatedly practice this over time, then you’ll soon see the instinct to scan becoming much stronger in a game.

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As well as making small changes like Son, there are ways to take your scanning training to the next level, by incorporating a number of different drills into your training. While some of these will require an extra person to help you out, many can be done with the use of a wall to replicate someone passing the ball to you.

Many involve reacting to a certain call, such as a colour, helping to improve the speed in which your brain processes information and turns it into an action on the pitch. Take a look at the videos below, which are some of the best when it comes to scanning drills.

Awareness And Reaction Drills | 6 Drills to Improve Scanning Skills

Visual Awareness Training For Footballers/Soccer Players | Improve Your Vision And Awareness

Pre season footwork session with Tariq Lamptey at Studio 9 Fitness

Watching and Analysing the Pros

If you want to improve at something one of the best things you can do is to study the work of an expert. That’s exactly the same when it comes to scanning. By watching clips of the world’s best players, you can learn their scanning habits, behaviours, and techniques, to take your game to the next level. 

Pick a player in your position who you admire, or play a similar style to, watch how they time their scans, and play off the ball, and then try to implement this into your own game. A great time to watch these clips is right before a training session or game, so the information is fresh in your mind for when you take to the pitch.

You don’t have to remember everything you see in the video, a good tip is to try and focus on just 1 or 2 things that player does well, and think about how you can improve on those aspects of your game the next time you play. 

If you’re looking for a good place to find these types of videos, check out the @beyourbest_pro Tiktok and Instagram accounts.

There you’ll find dozens of videos breaking down and analysing the off the ball movement of the world’s best players. Check out this video on Kevin De Bruyne below. 

Wrapping Up

So there you go, 3 solid ways to start working on, and improving your scanning. If you practice regularly and consistently, it won’t be long before you start to see an improvement on the pitch, with your vision and decision making sure to improve.

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