It sounds crazy to hear from a soccer coach that vision doesn’t matter, but let me explain. Growing-up I played a little basketball, volleyball, floor hockey, golf, tennis, badminton and ultimate Frisbee to name just a few. Soccer was always my favorite but I loved all sports. In fact, I loved sports so much, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education with a minor in Athletic Coaching. During and after my education, I had the opportunity to play with some top players in their respective sports. When I played basketball with college basketball players, I found a way to at least limit my liability for the team. It certainly wasn’t my vision that let me down in the games, it was my poor skill set when I had the ball that was the problem. I actually made some really good simple passes that required excellent vision in basketball. Floor hockey was so similar to soccer that I felt really comfortable playing it, but again the better players had a superior technical skill set to me, even though my vision in the game wasn’t bad. Looking back, I realized that the sports I was able to adapt quickly to were all hands dominant sports. This explains a lot in terms of soccer player development, compared to other sports that predominately use the hands. When you look at the human brain, it reveals that the hands are greatly over-represented compared to other regions of the body. To illustrate this fact, simply put your hand on a flat surface, lifting just your middle finger. Next, place your foot on a flat surface and lift only your middle toe. Both your hands and feet easily have enough musculature to complete these tasks, but almost everyone has difficulty lifting just their middle toe, this is because they lack sufficient neural representation in the brain regions that control the feet. What that means is, soccer is counter-intuitive to the way the brain works, forcing players to reshape their brains if they are to become proficient at the sport. In order to become a high-level soccer player, your brain must literally be re-molded and changed, increasing the neuro-plasticity in the region of the brain that controls the feet. This leads me to the point of vision in soccer, having the vision to see the field is only a very small component to being a good soccer player. Yes, scanning the field and gathering current information is essential, but without the ability to skillfully use that information, vision by itself has little value. The top soccer players have the subconscious ability to focus on only the important visual cues, while disregarding all non-essential cues, as they couple together all the information instantly to decide upon an action. However, in soccer the action is most likely to be carried out with the feet, not the hands, adding to the difficulty of executing the skill. Playing high-level soccer requires much more than just vision, it requires a wide variety of skills that must be executed at really high speeds, and under immense pressure. You can make all the right decisions, using the best vision, but if you can’t instantly pick and execute the correct skill, your vision doesn’t matter much. A player might see the space, enter the space, and then fail to set up correctly to receive the ball, as the play breaks down. The problem wasn’t the vision; it most likely the technical skill set. When a coach blames a lack of vision for loss of possession, a bad pass, not shooting, not switching the field or anything else, it is probably not a lack of vision, it is everything else that led up to not being able to execute on the vision, or even prevented the player from lifting their head in the first place.
The reality is that soccer is a very difficult game. Think about this, the speed of thought required to play at a high level is too fast for the conscious mind to handle; the top players have essentially hard-wired their brains and bodies to override their conscious minds, as their subconscious mind takes control of their actions, resulting in highly skilled players doing amazing things at lightning fast speeds on the field. As a coach, I know that vision is important, but let’s not be naive in our analysis of what vision in soccer is and how we can best teach it. Vision in my opinion is just another piece of the puzzle in player development, but to isolate vision without treating it as part of a bigger picture, may not yield the results you are looking for. Next time you hear a coach yell, “how could you not see that”, know that there is more to the story and it’s not that simple.