Take Pictures

Casey Carr

At Charlotte Soccer Factory we often talk about how we can create environments to enable kids to explore, be creative, try skills and take on challenges and rapidly improve their development. We build sessions that are almost an explosion of touches on the ball, challenge the brain, and are constantly looking to make them comfortable being uncomfortable.

I love to watch my own kids play the game of soccer. I enjoy seeing them explore, try new things, be creative, fail, learn, succeed, compete etc. I’m fortunate that both of my kids enjoy playing a game I enjoy so much. Anyone that has found me in my usual spot in the corners for games has also probably heard me say one of two things to my boys - “Take Pictures” or “Check your shoulder.” I’ve written about this before, but the concept has come up often recently on the sidelines and in training so I thought I’d create another post and dive a little deeper into this.

So why then is one of the most important things I choose to say to my own kids “Take Pictures, or Check your shoulders.” The truth is that in all of our environments that we create whether it is for private, small group, or team training sessions a big piece of what we do is building an environment where kids have to make choices, they process information and make a choice how to proceed. The touch explosions are just part of the way for them to solve the problem. Offensively in its most simplistic form players with the ball have 3 options: dribble, pass or shoot. As we know players typically only have the ball for a limited number of times in a game so what they do with the ball is critical, and even more critical is what they do when they don’t have the ball as that is how they will spend the majority of their time.


Norwegian researcher Geir Jordet, likely the most prominent researcher on scanning in football, defines scanning as “a body and/or head movement in which the player’s face is actively and temporarily directed away from the ball, with the intention of looking for information that is relevant to perform a subsequent action with the ball.” He did an exhaustive study (see more here) to learn how twenty seven elite fooballers in the English Premier League use scanning in competitive matches, and the relationships that scanning has between the behavior and performance. Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager has been a huge promoter of the concept as well.

The research tells us that the best players in the world scan six to eight times in the ten seconds before they get the ball, where as average professional players are typically in the three to four times category. The best player of all time is Xavi Hernandez, of Barcelona fame. His numbers were off the chart at 0.83 times per second before receiving the ball. Frank Lampard is also largely regarded as one of the best of all times. I included this video last time, and will do it again here.


In my previous post I suggested a way for kids of all ages to start to build the habit of “taking pictures” or “checking their shoulders” by building it into every day life. When they are walking down the streets or to and from the pitch start to be more curious. Observe, look around, check your shoulder. My prompt to the kids of “take pictures” is just a reminder to re-engage in the process. Sometimes it’s done when there is no danger, other times it is when there is someone creeping on their back shoulder on defense. In paying more attention to my own timing I’ve found that I often use this technique when my kids are on defense. The point is not to tell them how to solve a problem, it’s just to give them a reminder that their ability to make decisions will be greatly improved if they are scanning.

Here’s the rub though with scanning, while we get excited about improving the number of times we scan, it serves no point if you don’t process the information correctly, or are scanning at the wrong times. To unpack this a bit more players can certainly improve their frequency which would feel like a good first step, but we should also be teaching our kids, and players when to do it, to avoid building bad habits that may actually make things harder on them to develop over time. As we know bad habits are hard to break. It’s much easier to create a new habit than to change an old one (see James Clear and his research on habits) so let’s do what we can to create a good habit from the beginning.


Geir Jordet’s research tells us that “Every time a team-mate touches the ball, you want to make sure you have your eyes on the ball, because that’s the moment in time when the most information-relevant area on the pitch is the ball.” What does this mean? If you aren’t looking when your teammate is touching the ball then you might miss the initial flight of the ball, the pass etc. and then your timing is too late, the play is dead.

The key is that when the ball is being touched you have to look at the ball. Between touches, and immediately after the touch are the optimal times to look away from the ball.

While this seems simple, it’s clearly based on observations of players of all ages and abilities not a simple task. As Johan Cruyff once said “Soccer is simple, but it is difficult to play simple.”


It’s clear to us that building this into your daily training routing is critical. Being intentional with this process and observing it in games, training etc. to improve is key. Here are 3 quick tips to get you started.

  1. Be intentional - build a daily routine that brings a focus to scanning. Add it to your everyday life, but especially to how you evaluate and develop your training sessions.

  2. Video review - start to pay attention to how you, and others do this in a game. If you are watching your games on video pay attention to how you scan. If you are watching a premier league game pay more attention to what the players are doing.

  3. Explore - try new things, evaluate them, improve it and do it again. Brain development is key. Engineers use a circular model of “Ask - Imagine - Plan - Create - Improve” Be creative, share your ideas, get feedback, look for new ways to develop. Read more, be more observant, building these habits will only improve your brain and your game. They are a huge win-win. The more you read, the more you research the more you activate this part of your brain.

We have been spending a lot of time building this into our sessions, our video reviews (we added a pixellot air camera this season to record games and training) and have been doing analytical reviews where paying attention to scanning is key. I know a very high profile international player who when he was young his trainer would hold a camcorder and video only his head to see how often he looked over his shoulders. Be creative, let us know what you are doing. We are also looking into some very innovative new technologies that are working on improving perception coupling action and scanning using an Oculus Quest that we look forward to sharing soon.

Let us know what you are doing, what you think of when you look at scanning, and how you are building this into how you train, evaluate players, etc by leaving a comment. Share this with friends and let’s create a dialogue that helps our community improve.

Thanks for reading.