Founder of TOVO Institute, Todd Beane examines how young players soccer brains process and filter information via ‘RAS’.

Are you focused on the right stuff?

Believe me I know very little about the brain so if you have a P.H.D. in brainy stuff just humor me.

Apparently, we all have a RAS (Reticular Activating System), which is a part of the brain that filters information collected from our senses. Actually most data to which we are exposed does not make it through this filter, which is good considering I struggle to keep up with the small bits that do.

“The moment you consciously choose to become aware of something specific within your environment, is the moment the RAS goes to work and begins filtering through anything and everything that is associated or connected to your desired intention. As such, you receive data from your environment that can help you solve the problem you are working through more effectively. What all this really means is that you are consciously choosing the 16+ bits of data you are pulling from the 10 million bits of possibilities within your environment, which means that you are exposing yourself to the right kinds of information that will allow you to solve your problems more effectively.” (Adam Sicinski)

So what?

How many players focus on the ball? Almost all of them. I ran a guest training and every player watched the ball like my three-year-old daughter watches Dora the Explorer. Fixated, entranced, and oblivious to anything else. They were visually and physically stalking it from the point, the flanks, and behind. “Come to the ball!” I am sure they would have heard from their club coaches. (That popular coaching phrase drives me crazy but is for another blog.) These were not the bumblebee four-year-old footballers that buzz their way around the field. These were 14-year-old players with 7 years of club coaching behind them. They were processing information, but I would argue the wrong information.

I want their RAS to process patterns of play and spatial relationships. The problem is not the ball in football. The challenge is how we move in relation to the opponents who do not want us to put the ball in the back of their net.

I want my players to “get their RAS in gear” and process patterns.

“Everything around us thrives on predictable or semi-predictable cycles, rhythms and patterns.” (Adam Sicinski) We are creatures of pattern recognition. We see patterns that help us realize how the universe works and how our biological system functions. It also helps us recognize things like when a mama bear is with her cub, it is not a good time to take a selfie with it. You know, important things where we can predict outcomes based upon patterns we have seen ourselves or have been added to the collective consciousness of humanity.

Back to the field.

I prefer to ask my players to look for patterns of play in their opposing player. In ten minutes, what do you recognize in that player? Tends to fake left and move right. Tends to want the ball wide. Tends to pass back. Tends to shoot with the left. Granted, not as important as the mama bear with cub pattern, but soccer stuff.

Then we can ask ourselves to recognize our own patterns of position play. When do I step away to create space? When do I open up to receive the ball? When do I take the opponent on 1 v 1? When do I tuck in behind to offer support?

Your player already has a RAS. They are born with it. We, as coaches, only need to help our players process the information that is most meaningful. They can recognize patterns as they do it every day. Since they know how to use iPads at age two, I think they can focus a bit on position play. Players can improve within one training session.

The first step is to guide players to look for the right bits of data. They will be triggering their brain to consciously choose the bits of data that are most relevant to their success. They will see predictable patterns and they will use that information to creatively solve the problems they will face on the pitch. And this will all happen within milliseconds.

The second step is to provide a repetition of scenarios such that the player finds comfort in knowing that they have seen a particular situation several times before. If x, then y. Again, you will be amazed how quickly our players will respond to the stimuli presented in a match when they have run through the scenarios of such so many times. Their brains are remarkably powerful computers, ready to compute and to trigger the execution of brilliant football.

Amazing stuff. Amazing kids. Amazing potential when we train the brain.

Or we can have them all “watch the ball” as we dig it out of the back of our own net.

Join us at for more updates on talent development in soccer.


About the Author:

As Co-Founder of Cruyff Football and Senior Advisor to the Cruyff Institute, Todd has traveled the world educating professional athletes and coaches. After thirteen years working with his mentor Johan Cruyff, Todd launched TOVO International. TOVO Training is a research-based total football methodology that develops creative and capable footballers. To learn more, click here.

Popular searches: defending, finishing, 1v1, playing out from the back, working with parents