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Why is scanning considered the most important trait of a professional football player? Part 2


As established in Part 1, scanning is about looking ahead, anticipating where the ball will be, and knowing what to do with it once in possession. It’s essential for players to look and think, look and think, look and think. This kind of practice takes repetition and should be engrained into every player’s mind. But how would you manage to enforce it practically? There are seven ways that players can use to learn how to scan.

Master the art of one-touch training

One-touch training is where a player has only one opportunity to touch the ball.The ultimate goal of one-touch training is to teach the player to think quickly. It helps to train their mind. Having only one opportunity to touch the ball, often forces the player to scan the field and assess the options before making a quick decision. This must all be done in a split second before receiving the ball.

Once players have played this game a number of times, they will have switched on their mind to the “scanning”, “half-touch mentality”. The game can then be opened up to as many touches is necessary to achieve the best result. However, the process must still be followed – do players scan, assess and make quick decisions? If they do, the game can be expanded to allow more touches per pass, and/or include dribbling, running with the ball, slowing the game down with multiple touches (changing the tempo), shooting etc.

What are some of the things that prevent one-touch games from running smoothly?

  • When a player hasn’t looked at their options before receiving the ball, the ball will sit at their feet as they struggle to compute the best option, or they pass too quickly without thought and lose possession of the ball.
  • The player’s body and feet position are not prepared to receive the ball.
  • Not verbally communicating to teammates.
  • Poor passing – an example of this is when the ball is passed with too much pace, making it difficult to pass to the next person accurately.
  • No open passing options to teammates.
  • Passing into space may be a great decision, but it is then the teammates who have to make sure they saw that space and moved into it in time.

Movement off the ball

In 90 minutes, players will only touch the ball around 3 – 6 minutes of the time. What should players do the rest of the 84-87 minutes? They should be moving into positions that help their teammates. There are a few basic rules that can be implemented into training to help players know the best possible position and movement when they don’t have the ball.

  • Scan! Scanning – looking and thinking, looking and thinking is the number one rule. Create spaces and opportunities by constantly checking for them.
  • Communicate clearly through visual clues such as eye contact or orally, through speaking.
  • Create space and maintain distance between your teammate with the ball.
  • Think ahead. Try to imagine what the best position to receive the ball would be.
  • Stay in the defender’s blind spot.
  • When you’ve seen the best position to receive the ball, arrive at that spot at the right time so that defenders don’t have enough time to intercept it. This requires great judgement and timing.
  • If you lose possession, be ready to bounce back mentally.

Train your peripheral vision

Some of the top football clubs employ eye specialists who use specialised technology and the ‘club’s vision training strategy’ to work with the players. Using your peripheral vision as part of your scanning is a great way to begin. Starting to train peripheral vision from a young age pushes you well ahead of the rest.There are many training drills to achieve this, but we’ve included one in a previous blog that you can check out here.

Play in small spaces and utilise small sided football games

Small sided games give younger players the opportunity to contribute to and be more involved in the game. It’s harder to ‘hide’ or ask your teammate to make the difficult pass when you might be the only person on the field at the right spot to do so. This also reduces the chances of more dominant players taking over the match. With less players on the field, one will be forced to make decisions, and in order to do so successfully, they will be forced to scan. This is a great space to begin looking at creating spaces and opportunities to gain possession or receive the best pass.

Playing in smaller sized pitches forces players to think quicker than on a larger field, sharpening their decision-making skills (tactical development). The ball is never far away, so it takes greater concentration on the player’s part.

Become a student of the game

Watching good football is important, as long as you are watching with the intention of learning. Ask yourself, why did that pass work? Why didn’t it? Where were the players positioned to receive the ball and did they see it coming? Why did the defenders miss it? How many times did that player scan the field? If you can see a great pass and understand the positioning, try to replicate it in your next match.

Understand what your coach is teaching

This seems obvious, but it must be said. Often, players don’t understand and simply continue. Pay attention to what your coach says and delve deeper into the subject after hours. Research how you could take it further. Ask what you can do at home to improve in that specific area. Ask what daily disciplines can be put in place to help you with scanning. Ask additional questions.

Play with more experienced players

If it’s safe and possible, play with more experienced players because in the end you will learn from them. Much like becoming a student of the game, watch how they play and why they make certain passes. Replicate what they do. It can be a humbling experience as you won’t be the best player on the field but by challenging yourself, you can become one.


Players who are masters of scanning are ultimately successful. The ability to make quick and accurate decisions depends on the player’s ability to find possibilities in a changing and moving environment, which starts with perception. In order to become a master of scanning, players should master the art of one-touch training and movement off the ball, train their peripheral vision, play in small spaces and small sided football games, become a student of the game, understand what their coach is teaching and when it’s safe to do so, play with more experienced players.

movement off the ball, one-touch training, scanning

Sean Szabo

Recognised as a leading brain-centred football coach in Gauteng, Sean Szabo is an English FA qualified coach who has worked internationally assisting player’s motor and technical football skills, as well as their cognitive development on and off the field. IQ Football was founded in 2015 by Sean as an amalgamation of his passion for football coaching, mentoring, and brain-centred research.

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