Eyes on the prize

The ability to know exactly what’s going on around you at all times is a vital part of elevating your game to the next level.

According to the former Arsenal men’s manager Arsène Wenger, top players scan (or ‘check their shoulder’) six to eight times in the 10 seconds before receiving the ball, while average players will check their surroundings just three to four times.

This enhanced perception allows the top players the opportunity to make better decisions, knowing in advance of receiving the ball where the space is, where their teammates are and where their opponents are.

Steph Houghton’s awareness of her surroundings has made her one of the best English defenders of her generation

Speaking at the Sport Innovation Society in 2019, Wenger said: “The problem in football is that you learn how to play [the wrong] way round – first execution, then decision making and perception last.

“I have lost many top players because their head was on the ball and they were not seeing what was around them. Great players isolate from the ball, their head is like a radar.

“Once a circuit is printed in their brain, we managers find it extremely difficult to change that. It’s vital not to harm the perception with young boys because they learn first the execution from five to 12.

“As a player, whenever I get the ball I have to analyse, then decide and finally execute. Perception plays a huge role in this. I worked with a University in Norway to identify how I could improve perception. Basically, I came to the conclusion that it is about getting as much information as possible before I get the ball. I call that scanning.

“I try to see what happens to a player in the 10 seconds before he gets the ball, how many times he takes information and the quality of information he takes. It depends on the position.

“What is interesting is that very good players scan six to eight times in the 10 seconds before getting the ball and normal ones three to four times. That is a major step for improvement.

“However, more important – you have to analyse the quality of perception and decision making. My challenge is to get my players to know which the best choice is and make the optimal decision every time they get the ball.


“Great players isolate from the ball, their head is like a radar” Arsène Wenger


“The player has to scan and decide. When he has decided he has to make the best possible solution. This means a compromise between risk and the progress of the ball.”

When it seems like certain players have so much more time on the ball than others, this is often as a result of persistent scanning.

This is particularly important for midfielders, who have to navigate crowded areas of the pitch, often receiving the ball with their back to goal, before looking to play forwards.

Scanning not only improves a player’s chances of playing a positive forward pass but, more importantly, a high-quality forward pass.

Research and observation of 250 professional players, carried out by Dr Geir Jordet at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, showed that former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard scanned 0.61 times per second. The ex-Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard managed 0.62 searches per second.

However, eclipsing both was Barcelona’s midfield maestro Xavi with an incredible 0.83 scans per second.

Coaching players to check their shoulders regularly will improve their decision making, awareness and the accuracy of their next pass, all vital attributes in creating a star player.


Now train your players to spot space and opponents, and improve their decision making, with our three-stage session plan…


A simple arrival activity that could be used as a full practice session for younger players

Places players into a more game-realistic, pressurised environment, with more decisions to make

Small-sided game
Put your players’ scanning and receiving skills to the test

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