Skip to main content

How to unlock the power of your brain, and ignite your Reticular Activating System for football – Part 2

Reticular Activating System

In Part 1 we discussed that your RAS helps you to focus, points out information that is important to you, and blocks out information that conflicts with the information stored in your subconscious.

This brings us to what we believe is the most powerful function of your RAS – that is to seek information that re-affirms or validates your belief systems. It filters the world through the framework you give it, and your beliefs are that framework.

Reticular Activating System

Reticular Activating System – Your Superpower

Throughout your life, especially as you learnt things as a child, you gained beliefs about many different subjects, including yourself, and stored those beliefs in your subconscious mind.

This is great news if you have positive beliefs about yourself, and others, stored in your subconscious. But, if you have a negative belief system about yourself or the world around you, your RAS will keep reinforcing that worldview.

Apply this to football. If you believe you can’t pass well and hardly ever score, you probably won’t pass well and rarely will your ball hit the back of the net.

Just take that in for a moment. Do you understand now why we believe this is a life-changing function of your RAS?

Your RAS will make sure your belief is reaffirmed over and over, and over again. As we discussed in part 1, it will even block out information that proves that your stored belief is incorrect. It doesn’t care whether your belief is in fact a lie. It doesn’t distinguish between what is right or wrong.

So, to help you perform better on the football field by using your RAS, you must go back to the stored information in your subconscious mind. If you try to change your performance before changing your beliefs, you won’t get as far as you’d like to go. Dare I say, you won’t ever truly achieve the fullness of your goals if you don’t change your stored beliefs.

Dr Cobus Oosthuizen (PhD in Mentoring & Human Development), explains it like this:

“You can’t make better decisions in life than what is stored in your subconscious. You need to change the stored information in your subconscious to be able to change.”

How to change your supposed ‘truths’

How do you address what is in your subconscious mind? There is a lot of science behind this golden question. There is also a lot of personal mind-work to be done to change the stored information. There are many tools to help in this life-changing subject. We’ll look at one of those tools in this blog post.

The fact of the matter is you need to breakdown old neural pathways that have been formed about your negative beliefs you have about yourself and create new neural pathways about yourself that reflects your goals.

Without going into a lecture on the science and details behind breaking down and creating new neural pathways, trust us on this groundbreaking task: become aware of your self-talk and then actively start changing it to re-affirm your new stored belief.

Your self-talk determines your self-image, which is part of your belief system, and your self-image determines your performance.

Re-read that sentence above. Your self-talk will eventually determine how you perform on the field. This is a research backed statement.  

Conroy and Metzler (2004) studied how negative self-talk significantly increased cognitive anxiety in sports performance. Todd, Oliver, and Harvey (2011) assessed the research done on self-talk and unanimously concluded that positive self-talk mediated not only cognitive, but also, behavioural change.

Elaine Mead, BSc explains, “In terms of how impactful positive self-talk can be, the research unanimously agrees it’s quite a lot. From sports professionals to losing weight, to combatting depression: changing the way you talk to yourself can have a proactive roll-on effect in behaviour changes.”

You have complete control over your self-talk. You can choose what to do with it. No one can change it for you, they can help, but essentially it is under your control. So how do you use your self-talk to change your performance?

  1. Identify your self-talk and stop saying those negative things about yourself.
  2. When you act in a way that you don’t want to act, say, “this is not like me.”
  3. Describe your performance to yourself in words and images, through visualisation and then say, “this is like me.”
  4. Then, at first, if your performance doesn’t match up to your goals, remind yourself that there is a good future ahead by saying, “the next time I intend to

Setting your intent

You are essentially instructing your RAS through your words. This is called setting your intent and it plays a key role in encouraging your subconscious mind to bring forth a desired goal, as well the most optimal future.

Just to reinforce this further, think about the examples below. When you say them to yourself, notice your emotions and what you believe from the statements.

“I really struggle to pass well.”

“I hope to pass well.”

“I want to pass well.”

“I intend to pass well.”

Which phrase had the best emotional outcome? The last phrase, right? It leaves no room for fear and doubt. It simply focuses your mind on a positive future.

Thoughts accumulate to become beliefs and beliefs determine your performance.

So, if we take the example belief-system from above about passing and scoring, you will first realise what you are saying to yourself about being unable to pass or score. If you had to count how many times you have said this to yourself in the past, it would shock you. Depending on the number of times your experience and your self-talk has reinforced that opinion, determines how strong those neural pathways are.

Once you’ve become aware of what you are saying to yourself, stop saying those negative things to yourself and rather, in the moment that your performance is not great, say to yourself, “this is not like me”.

Then desire a different performance, in this case it’s to become an excellent passer and shooter. Visualise it and then say to yourself, “this is like me”.

So, you’ve noticed your self-talk, you’ve stopped your same old sentence about being bad at passing and you’ve visualised yourself making excellent passes and shooting well. Then you get onto the field, and you make a bad pass again, and by the end of the game you’ve missed the net several times. Why didn’t it work?

It takes time. Be patient. How many years have you reinforced your negative belief?

Don’t worry, it won’t take years to breakdown and make new neural pathways. Dr Caroline Leaf believes it takes 63 days. Dr Cobus Oosthuizen believes it can take as short as four days to create new neural pathways that are stronger than the old negative pathways.

It’s crucial to use your thoughts wisely, to your benefit.

In the game, when you make the bad pass, instead of going back to your same old self-talk about being bad at passing, rather say, “this is not like me, you’re better than this,”. Then visualize yourself passing well, feel the positive emotions behind it and say to yourself, “this is like me, next time I intend to pass well.” Same as when you miss the net, say to yourself with gusto, “this is not like me, you’re better than this, next time I intend to score.”

When you begin to pass well, reinforce it in your mind, and say “this is like me!”

It sounds simple, in fact it sounds strange, but you’re speaking to yourself all day long whether you like it or not, you will speak to yourself around 65 000 times a day. Why not choose to speak life affirming words over yourself? Eventually, over time, new neural pathways will develop. Those pathways will change your self-image and that will change your performance.

The RAS is a powerful system built into our brains that we all have access to. Let’s start using it to take us to the next level.

Next month we’ll delve deeper into visualisation and explain how it works with your RAS to improve you as a player.


  • Conroy, D. E. and Metzler, J. N. (2004). Patterns of Self-Talk Associated with Different Forms of Competitive Anxiety. Retrieved from:
  • Todd, D., Oliver, E. J., and Hardy, J. (2011). Effects of Self Talk: A systematic review. Retrieved from:

Brain-boosting tips, Brain-centred Training, Children, Football, football player, improve your performance, IQ Football, Mindset, performance, peripheral vision, Reticular Activating System, skill development, Skills, Soccer, Soccer Academy, technique

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.