Soccer Vision



Vision on the soccer field allows for the pinpoint passing to teammates or to space that is the game’s hallmark. Likewise, top defenders and goalkeepers can quickly size up danger on an opposing attack and diffuse the situation by being ahead of the action with their ability to see and dissect positioning and movement.  The game’s beauty is partly entrenched in the continuous flow of action, an overlapping symmetry and synergy where the best players thrive and successfully move the ball to teammates. Skill and technique are a part of these plays, but maybe even more intrinsic to facilitating the game is vision – the ability to see, comprehend, and properly respond to what is happening on the field.

Among his many gifts for the game, the legendary Pelé, it is said, had peripheral vision 30 percent greater than that of the average athlete.  We can’t all be Pelé, but we all have the facility to practice habits that make us more aware on the field and able to make split-second decisions that can consistently turn into game-winning plays. Despite his lack of formal education, Pelé also studied geometry and chess. The angles and movement strategies of soccer may have come to him intuitively, but he enhanced his play with such simple pursuits in adjacent disciplines. You can, too.

Educational research indicates that at least 75-percent of learning is visual.  In sports that percentage can be even higher as eyes direct body movement. Soccer is no different. Only emphasizing ball skills while neglecting on-field vision and spatial awareness will not produce top-flight play.  Players who have the complete package that includes this vision are often referred to as “intelligent” in their style of play. They typically make quicker decisions handling the ball and their movements, and then they have the skills to make perfect passes or cut loose rocket shots on goal. 

Additionally, there’s evidence that the world’s best athletes, like Pelé, have exceptional visual systems.  Just as there are ways to improve your organic eyesight, there are basic ways to improve your vision on the field.

The most successful coaches at all levels stress four proven fundamentals:

  •  Be aware of where everyone is on the field.

Even before you receive the ball, you should have a general understanding of your teammates’ positioning. This feel improves with experience and playing together. The repetition of practice and play with the same group improves confidence in this regard, and the best teams can make it seem that players are intrinsically interconnected as they advance the ball.

Still, game situations can dictate movements that might be out of the ordinary as defenders adjust and counter.  Thus, it’s important to “scan” the field constantly, thereby making yourself ready to make or receive a good pass, or to put yourself in a position to be ready to defend or to support a teammate.

  •  When you work the ball, get your head up quickly.

As soon as you have control of the ball, get your head up. Practicing this technique makes it a habit. Then keep your eyes moving. Turn your head and also turn your body to maximize your field of vision. You want to see the “big picture,” moving from large to small – upfield then down to the feet (See Introduction to Dribbling.)

Whether you have the ball or not, analyze, interpret, anticipate, comprehend; see – then do. Move to a better position. Concentrate. See as much of the field as possible and the movement of all players. The more rapidly you see the field, the more quickly you can make a play. The familiarity you have with teammates and their movements is vital here.  Practice recognizing events occurring in your peripheral vision.

  • Constantly scan the field.

On offense, by knowing the location of teammates and defenders, you already have an idea of where to pass the ball. You might have space to carry forward yourself, or you know a teammate is open or breaking open.  As the defense reacts, perhaps defeating your preferred passing option, you need to already have a secondary option available.  Many players only see what’s straight ahead of them. Learn to scan the field to see all of your options.  Again, practice makes these decisions easier and more natural, particularly if you have already mastered skills and techniques that give you confidence in your ball-handling.

On defense, constantly scan for threats.  Contemplate and organize the dangers.  Ask yourself “what if” questions and move to space accordingly.

  • Look for players who are making runs.

A fellow player making a run is almost invariably a better option than a teammate standing still. Again, your ability to scan the field and read situations can often lead you to teammates making a run and create the best opportunities to attack quickly. Players who lack good vision often miss these opportunities and essentially damage their team’s ability to change fields and score goals. Think of the great center midfielders, so often the key in setting the attack in motion with vision to create breakaways and other scoring opportunities.

Similarly, on defense, although you must focus on the most dangerous runners in sequence, you can’t get tunnel vision and not see the threats on the other side of the field, lurking to come in at the back post.

  •  See something, say something.

Remember that the players with the best overall view of the field are the goalkeepers.  Unfortunately, they don’t tend to make it very far upfield.  Accordingly, the best view works its way out from the keeper to the center backs, to the central midfielders, to the trailing center striker.  As such, these players are to ones who are most likely to benefit their team by communicating what they see.  Everyone, however, must know and use both the oral and non-verbal communications common to the team.  (See:  Oral Communication and Non-Verbal Communication.)

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • To better utilize these basics in soccer vision, encourage players to play the first touch away from the body. This technique allows more time to consider the next move, allows better vision with the eyes not focused down at the feet. There is less chance to be easily be defended, and the opportunity to pass, shoot or carry increases.
  • In order to optimize vision, a pass from the left should be received with the right foot and a pass from the right should be received with the left foot.
  • There are several specific drills to enhance less experienced players’ abilities or sharpen more seasoned ones.  One of these is:
    • In a 30m X 40m grid, with players in two distinct-colored jerseys, the players two-touch pass, one color to the other (and only to the other) and continue in the same pattern. Players must scan their field of vision to find the other color before they receive the pass to keep the ball moving.
    • Players should pass over a variety of distances and then move to one-touch passing. Emphasize passing to the receiver’s line of vision and encourage movement and everyone getting touches. Don’t let the players shout for the ball. This will make participants keep their heads up to see where to pass.
  • “Vision” is not the same as “Visualization,” however, one can use visualization to improve vision on the field.

(MICHAEL D. ASHLEY contributed to this article.)

© Copyright, John C. Harves