Learning to lead through sports coaching
Scanning: the key to Gündoğan and Ødegaard’s success

Scanning: the key to Gündoğan and Ødegaard’s success

Football is a game where better players tend to look around the pitch constantly to “read the game”. Barcelona’s Ilkay Gündoğan – who has just won a British and European treble with Manchester City – and Arsenal’s Martin Ødegaard are two of the finest examples of how the best players do it.

What is scanning?

Scanning is the art of looking around the pitch to monitor other players’ movements. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it’s about looking for space. As the video below shows, Norway international Ødegaard constantly looks around him to assess the space he can play in when he gets the ball. 

(Video credit @finalthrd)

I wrote in a post earlier this year on the five essential football skills I believe young players should learn that scanning, for me, is an absolute must for any player learning the game.

The key to scanning success

Scanning is also something that technically doesn’t require any special skill. Anyone who can play the non-disability version of football can look around.

Two footballers looking around (or "scanning") during a football match

Developing what happens in the players’ minds, however, is the key to success. The cognitive activity in a players’ brain is unfortunately something that we just can’t see. We only see the outcome. And that could come from all kinds of things.

To overcome this obstacle I like to plan football practice activities that really require players to look around for space and objects as they play. Then I know that if they do well at the game it’s because they’re scanning well.

For the youngest players, I love holding up different coloured space markers in a dribbling exercise. The kids decide what different colours mean. A red cone might mean they have to dribble with their weaker foot, for example. A yellow cone could mean they have to show off a skill like stepovers or a sole roll. It doesn’t matter. The real purpose of the exercise is to make them play with their heads up and keep looking across at me to see what colour I’m holding up.

A football and some coaching space markers on the grass

With older kids in passing games I might set out a grid of space markers. Then I ask players to pass into empty squares on the grid for their teammates to run on to. Again, they have to constantly re-assess the situation and adjust their play if they aren’t going to lose possession.

There are loads of ball-related games you can use. Anything that makes them scan will help them get better at it. It is a skill that players can learn.

A heavy cognitive load

There is a key thing for coaches (and parents) to remember. Scanning demands a lot of brainwork by the kids. They must analyse what they see and devise options in response. And that places a heavy cognitive load on them. They can’t process loads of instructions from the sidelines too. So keep noise to a minimum and just let them play.

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