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How to unlock the power of your brain, and ignite your Reticular Activating System for football – Part 1

Reticular Activating System

Did you know there are parts of your brain you can essentially ‘programme’ to help you to focus and achieve your goals? Your Reticular Activating System, otherwise known as your RAS, should be exploited to better your performance in football. Your RAS is a complex and multifunctional network of neurons, and this topic can be explored over thousands of pages. But, this blog is a three-part series that will delve into the subject just enough to make it understandable, and most importantly, practically applicable to aid on-pitch development. It’s relevant for players, parents, and coaches.

Reticular Activating System

Reticular Activating System – Your filtering System

Your RAS is a group of nerves that sits at the base of your brain in your brain stem. It’s a filtering system that serves as a filter between your conscious and subconscious mind. Our conscious mind can handle around 40 bits of information per second. Our subconscious mind can handle around 11 million bits of information. The RAS filters out all the unimportant information that we don’t need at that particular moment so we can survive.

An example of this in practice is when you walk around an airport terminal. There are multiple sources of stimuli contending for your attention such as music, conversations, lights, announcements, advertising billboards etc. but your RAS enables you to find your gate or tune in to your name being called over the speaker.

On a football field there are also multiple sources of stimuli. Several players are in your eyeline, defenders are obstacles in your way, teammates are moving around you, the noise from the fans is in the background, your coach is shouting instructions. Among all this ‘stimuli’ you must decide the best course of action. Will you pass, dribble, volley or shoot for the goal? If you dribble, in which direction, at what speed? If you pass, who will you pass to? If you shoot, where will you aim and will you go for power, curl, or try a chip? There is micro information that must be weighed in the balance such as: is the defender’s body weight leaning one way (in which case dribbling to the other side is more likely to yield a successful outcome).

Then there are also your internal thoughts about the situation, yourself, others. This is a very important subject when looking at your RAS, but we’ll delve into it more in Part 2.

What are you focussing on?

When your RAS has been told the information that is most important to you, it will bring that information to your attention.

Let’s now look at real life examples, off the field and on the field to illustrate this.

My wife and I went through a phase of wanting the Hyundai ix35. Guess what we saw nearly every day we were driving in traffic? The Hyundai ix35! Did everyone suddenly want the same car as us? No, it was just our RAS working well. Hyundai ix35s have always been on the road and have always been in our line of sight. Only when we told ourselves that we wanted to buy that car, did our RAS begin to bring them to our attention and point them out. Before that point, our RAS was filtering out that information because it was irrelevant to us, and it was protecting us from becoming overstimulated and overwhelmed while either one of us were driving.

If you are a player who has been working on their peripheral vision, you might see a pass that no one else can see. You have told your RAS, after hours and hours of practicing eye exercises or peripheral vision drills, that it is very important for you to not only see passes in your direct line of sight but also in your peripheral vision. In a split second, in the moment that you must decide to pass, your RAS will work for you to bring to your attention an obscure but brilliant possible pass that you might not have seen before working on your peripheral vision.

Through practicing drills that make you more aware of the important information in your surroundings on the football pitch (such as peripheral vision drills) your RAS will cause you to notice that information, and any other information that serves you to make an obscure pass, which in turn helps you to make complex decisions on the pitch.  

What are you missing?

Now that we’ve established that your RAS allows through information that is of personal importance to you, let’s look at how it blocks information that conflicts with your beliefs. This is how confirmation bias works, or how you might have a sensory blind spot, otherwise known as a scotoma.

The information can be right in front of you, but your RAS may cut certain information that might make you see, taste, feel, or experience something different to reality.

Read that sentence again. It’s a shocking statement. Can you imagine your brain blocking out reality?

Let’s give an example of this. How many ‘f’s can you count in this sentence?


The *answer is at the bottom of this blog, but we’ll just let you know that many people get the answer wrong, and it’s simply because they fail to count the ‘f’s in the word ‘of’. Why? Because we have been taught that ‘f’ sounds like ‘f’ in fox, whereas the ‘f’ in ‘of’ sounds like ‘v’. Your RAS is therefore blocking that information because you’ve told yourself that ‘f’ sounds like ‘f’ for fish, not ‘v’ for violet.

Humans can’t live with two conflicting ideas at the same time – you can’t think you’re a great passer in football at the same time as believing you’re pretty average at passing.

If you make a great pass one day, but you believe you’re average or less than average at passing, your RAS is going to block the conflicting information that you’re a great passer. You will make an excuse for yourself, like, ‘it was just lucky’, or ‘it was a once in a lifetime experience that won’t happen again’.

As you can see, your mind is incredibly powerful. You certainly don’t want your RAS to be working against you. This month’s task is to begin noticing how your RAS is working in your life. If you haven’t done it already, go back and read about peripheral vision and practice those drills. When you’re in the game, notice how much more you are seeing passes that you weren’t able to see before.

Now that we’ve touched on the basics of why you have a Reticular Activating System and what it can do, our next blog will discuss what we believe is one the most important tools you’ll learn about your RAS and how you can use it to enhance your performance.


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.

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