Friday, 21 June 2013

Vision, the Undervalued Skill - Part 1

After completing my UEFA 'A' license in Belfast back in 2009, it was time to make my return in order to take part on the UEFA Continued Professional Development (CPD) course. After acquiring a UEFA 'A' or 'Pro' license, it is required by UEFA that coaches continue to refresh their knowledge by attending a CPD course after every few years. Coming back to Belfast allowed me the opportunity not only to see some familiar faces, but also gain new ideas on coaching methods being used to further develop the modern day footballer.

Much of the course material surrounded the importance of perception and advancing the ability of players to read the game in order to make the proper decisions during the football match. Did you know that approximately 80% of the information necessary for a footballer to make decisions comes from vision? The more players see and recognize during the course of a match the more they will be able to execute the tasks necessary for success while playing under pressure. Considering the fast pace and high level of technical ability among players competing at the highest level, it is often the speed of decisions that differentiate the average from the best. And therefore it is crucial that coaches begin to realize the importance of developing vision with players from a young age.

McGreskin of Soccer EyeQ instructs the class
The instructor over our two day CPD course was Kevin McGreskin. Kevin has attained the UEFA 'A' certification in three separate countries and has developed a training program named Soccer EyeQ. The training methods that Kevin has developed focus on enhancing player decisions by increasing their capacity to recognize visual cues while managing to execute different skills required to play football. Whether it be in small sided games or through training exercises, Kevin believes that by gradually overloading stress on the brain with the use of various visual demands in training, players will increase their capacity to recognize more. Therefore when they arrive to the actual football match their visual awareness has been increased and will allow them the ability to make better decisions throughout the game. The concept is a fascinating one, and although some on the course were reluctant to buy into it, I believe much of the material is valid.

First we look at the three components surrounding skilled performance, they are:
  1. Perception (What you see).
  2. Decision making (The ability to act/react under pressure).
  3. Action (Technique).
Or to simplify this even more we can say: Perception = see, Decision = think, Action = do.

80% of the outcome of action will be based on perception. In other words, what you see will determine what you do.

When looking at Perception we must take into consideration the five senses, they are:
  1. See
  2. Hear
  3. Touch
  4. Taste
  5. Smell
For football matters, we only need to focus on the first three (See, Hear, Touch). With an emphasis being placed on number one, See.

Skilled Perception - advancing the ability to see the game.
If we break down each stage of a players action, we realize the following steps:

Step one: they See, this leads to referencing (where the player references what he/she sees).
Step two: they Think, this leads to framing (where a decision is to be made).
And finally Step 3: they Do, this essentially decides the outcome of their decision.

The outcome is derived from the initial process, step one, and essentially this (aside from various other factors, such as technical ability) will decide whether or not the player is successful with his/her decision.

We can break perception down into three levels.

Level 1 = Basic Perception
Level 2 = Realization of Relationships
Level 3 = Anticipation

Top playmaker, Xavi, constantly scans the pitch
Basic Perception would be simply what the player sees. Realization of relationships would be considered the ability for a player to recognize space and the distance between him/herself, teammates, opponents, etc. Anticipation would be the ability for a player to recognize where players are moving, how they are moving and when they are moving. Most players involved in football would only be able to reach level one or two of the three levels of perception. When we look at the elite footballer who has reached level three, we can quickly consider a few who come to mind, such as, Zidane, Scholes and Xavi. These players are not only able to recognize other players and the space between them, but also anticipate the movement of teammates and opponents in such an advanced manner that the game has become much easier for them and it shows in their ability to play. If you watch these three players in games, you will notice that they are frequently scanning the field, their heads are always moving and their eyes are picking up visual cues. In fact, studies show that players who scan the field more often will complete more than twice as many successful passes.

Game Awareness, seeing what's around you. There are five key components to awareness in the game, they are:
  1. The ball.
  2. Your teammates.
  3. The opposition.
  4. The area of play.
  5. The state of play.
When looking at these five components we realize that the first three are dynamic (moving), and the fourth and fifth are semi-static game variables (not moving).

As we move forward we will begin to look at training methods related to improving game awareness with the use of visual cues. You will recognize the importance of the five key components mentioned above and how we can adjust/modify each of them in order to enhance the players ability to see the game. Game awareness and player vision is an undervalued football skill and one that is often not focused on in training. As the game continues to become faster, it will be imperative that vision training becomes part of every training session within football.

The above outlined CPD information is my interpreted and condensed version of course material. I would like to thank UEFA, the IFA and Kevin McGreskin of Soccer EyeQ for sharing this information.

Part 2 of the UEFA CPD Course information will be shared with you over the next coming weeks. I thank you for visiting.