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  • Writer's pictureCoach Enzo

The 3 Skills Every Player Needs to Acquire (If They Want to Get to The Top)

There are a number of difference-makers in the game, and different players can thrive with various combinations of qualities, however, there are three specific skills I think every single top player has in their game: Scanning, Communicating, and Re-Positioning. These skills are habits that can be developed. They magnify one another and can make a huge difference in individual contributions both in the offensive and defensive context.


As I break down these three skills my goal is for you to get an in-depth understanding of how each one applies to the game and also for you to take away actionable tips that you can prioritize and make habits to improve your game offensively and defensively


 

Skill #1: SCANNING


Scanning in football is when a player actively looks away from the ball to gather information for better engagement with the ball. The best football players are highly aware of their surroundings, even before they receive the ball. Geir Jordet, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences began studying scanning in 1997, and since then, his team has filmed and analyzed over 250 professional and 200 elite youth players. He and his team have published 10 scientific papers on scanning in football, and 25 student theses/dissertations. Diving into the details here are 7 measurable scanning behaviors:


1. Scan Frequency - Scans per second


Here is a video showing Messi, scanning 12 times in 9 seconds.


Geir Jordet, the researcher mentioned in the beginning, has found that players who scan more frequently have a higher forward pass completion rate.



2. Scan Depth - How far away is the player looking? how far is the head movement angle away from the ball?


Here Pep Guardiola talks about Messi's scanning ability. He mentions creating a map of the field, this is the concept of depth. I make this distinction with players I coach, a deep scan is having a sense of potential advantages further away from you, not just in the space directly surrounding you.


3. Scan Symmetry - Looking and gathering information from both sides, the player's left & right


4. Scan Diversity - Eyes towards multiple sources of information between every gaze on the ball (sequence example: scan 1) player in front, scan 2) player behind, scan 3) player to the left


Here is an example of scanning diversity and scanning symmetry. In the video, you see Coutinho (Bayern Munich Champions League Game) scanning both to his left and his right and taking in information from many different portions of the field which include different players:




5. Scan Timing - Gathering information away from the ball when it's not critical to watch the ball.


Here Geir Jordet explains the correct timing; players should scan in between contacts with the ball:


Lastly, the next two, in my opinion, are slightly different than the rest above. I consider them distinct types of scans.


6. Micro Scans - Chain of many frequent scans, movement of eyes, not head.


These happen most oftentimes in a 1 v 1 situation in my opinion. While carrying the ball forward, or defending an attacker, players need to take consistent peeks up to their direct opponent to see their body position, their hips, and their foot placement.

In those close duel moments, the player is usually not scanning deep, or diverse, and is instead taking a chain of mini scans of their direct opponents to see where there can be an advantage.



7. Deceptive Scans - Movements of the head and eyes to trick the opponent you are going to go one way and then go the other way.


Here are some examples of deceptive scans right before a ball contact to deceive the defender:


Their overall conclusion is that the best players look at the game, while others look at the ball.


Pro Tip: For players to be able to maximize their vision of the field before they get the ball a lot of it starts with their body orientation. Players should aim to be sideways to the ball this way they can take their touch into space and play quickly... Pep Guardiola explains this in the video below:



Throughout the game, your scanning should repeatedly answer four basic questions for you:

  1. Where is the space and support around me?

  2. Where are the opponents around me?

  3. Where is the space in the opponent's formation for us to exploit?

  4. Where is my starting position in this phase of play of my team's game model?

 

Skill #2: COMMUNICATING


Communication is key to every team. A team sport is reliant on teamwork and players who cannot effectively communicate with their teammates will likely never reach the same heights as players who can.


This skill greatly benefits from skill #1. The higher the quality of scanning, the higher the quality of information the player has the ability to share with their teammates.


I will be discussing communication more in-depth, in an upcoming blog post about leadership but here I will be touching on the main types of informational communication that happen in the field:



1) Direct Communication: communication as a player directly involved in the action with the ball, there are four ways for you to communicate:


  • Verbal: For example, calling out "overlap" to a teammate you want to provide a combination option to you as you are dribbling with the ball.

--> Now this is the type of communication that is potentially the most misused. A lot of verbal communication that players do is not actually useful. For example, many players say "ball, ball, ball, here" when they aren't open because they are not reading the game. Players have to be able to recognize an opportunity for a teammate with the ball. Not all opportunities are the same quality, and in many games I go watch, some players don't seem to differentiate. If that teammate with the ball has a higher quality opportunity, and for example has a great shooting position or an advantageous matchup to take their player on 1v1, you as a supporting player should be encouraging your teammate to go for it, not asking for the ball just because you are in free space (more on the encouragement and type of communication in guiding communication).

  • Gestural: For example, putting your hand up to tell the player with the ball that you want the ball.

  • Dynamic Movement: For example, checking to the ball or making a diagonal run away from the ball to tell the player with the ball that you want the ball.

  • Ball Placement: For example, playing a teammate to their right foot to tell that teammate there is a defender on their other side.

Here is an example of playing the foot away from the defender to illustrate Ball placement:




2) Guiding Communication: communication with a teammate in direct action with the ball to help your team retain the ball and/or create a potential advantage somewhere on the field.


An example of this in the offensive context might be:


The ball is with the Right winger and the Left Center Back who is 50 yards away from the ball notices that the Right winger doesn't have many options and they are outnumbered on the right side.

One way to provide guiding communication might be: "It's 4v4 on that side, switch the ball, our Left Winger is open".


This type of communication requires maturity and a deeper understanding of the game notably of the types of advantages in the game and how to exploit them. In the above example, it is extremely valuable to the team as it helps communicate to the team that there is no advantage on that right side and instead of forcing it to that side it'd be better to switch the point of attack. That guiding communication alone, if acted upon might be able to create a chance with a numerical advantage on the other side.


An example of this in the defensive context might be from the goalkeeper organizing his defenders for the wall, for the corner, or simply to get tight to prevent a shot.


Here's a video example of guiding communication mostly in the defensive context:


The higher level you go, every player on the field starts to guide their teammates to help them make better decisions in different situations.



3) Momentum Communication: communication with the player in the direct action around the ball to help them be brave in a difficult situation. This type of communication provides energy, it provides hope, and belief in teammates and helps players play united as one.


When a team can have multiple players who step up and provide momentum communication in this way it provides incredible value to the team. It helps lift the team and gives teammates energy to deal with challenging situations.

Every team that has become a world champion, continental champion, national champion, and local champion has had this type of communication as a big part of their team.


In conclusion, communication is key to higher-level individual contributions! Done well, it helps the team work more effectively as a group. A study out of the University of Saskatchewan performed by Professor Colin Maclaren analyzing communication during pro men's games noted that "athletes on the winning team had higher average individual degree centrality and higher network-density scores than athletes on the losing team. This indicates that individual members on the winning team exchanged task-related information with more of their teammates and, as a result, engaged in more collective information exchange as a team."



 

Skill #3: REPOSITIONING


Now this third one I use to talk about to my players as part of skill #1 and #2, however over the years I've framed it as a separate skill. Repositioning is acting on the useful information that was gathered/exchanged (in skill #1 & skill #2) to improve the probability of a quality ball engagement.


Skill #1: Scanning - Information Input

Skill #2: Communication - Information Processing, Information Output

Skill #3: Repositioning - Information Processing & Physical Movement


Some players scan and communicate and then don't move to help their team. They are not processing the information and implementing the insights they've gathered.

Soccer and futsal require movement.


Top players are always readjusting, every time the ball moves, they move.

The repositioning skill also has timing as a key part of it. If you move too early, you might need to reposition again and if you move too late you might not be able to be open in time.


Offensive Context


Players have to constantly readjust their positioning to make sure they have an optimal starting position between the lines. Offensively this usually means starting blindside, orienting your body to be sideways on to be able to take a first touch into space.


Here is an example of Joao Felix of Barcelona, scanning many times, and then executing micro-adjustments in his positioning. He's processing the information and readjusting himself every time the ball moves in an effort to maximize the possibility of a quality engagement with the ball.





He has elite scanning frequency, symmetry, and diversity. He looks at multiple defenders around him and also takes note of his teammate Lewandowski. Afterwards, he is deceptive and does a dummy to let the ball run and Lewandowski is able to be through on goal and score for the team.



Defensive Context


Here is an example defensively, where you can see all players constantly readjusting. They are not passive they are actively engaged and repositioning every single time the ball moves.



As you can see some movements are very minimal but they make a difference. Some players seem surprised when I start coaching micro adjustments..."I'm one yard away from that position".... True, however resetting your starting position properly might be the difference between cutting out the pass or getting split. Offensively, that one yard might give you enough space to dribble past your defender..... it is small but the impact can be huge.

Lastly, you shouldn't move just to move, you should move to help your team based on the principles of your team's game model pertaining to that moment in the game.



I hope you found that valuable! In my training programs, sessions will vary, but one thing consistent in every session, is I am always emphasizing these three skill sets! These habits are not easy to acquire but with consistent work, genuine progress will happen!

To see if Playmaker Lab is a good fit for you can fill out this form here to schedule a call!






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