Irish Grassroots Football

Soft Eyes Make You A Better Player

Wendy Murdoch is an internationally recognised equestrian instructor and clinician of over 30 years. She is the author of many books and DVD she is one of the most skilful teachers ever encountered in any equestrian discipline, Wendy’s desire to understand the function of both horse and human, curiosity and love of teaching capitalised on the most current learning theories in order to show riders how to exceed their own expectations.

Now you might be wondering, what the hell has equestrian got to do with football coaching. Well, i’m going to tell you, well actually – Wendy is!! You see, I was searching the web for articles on players with tunnel vision, as I see so many players unable to scan in possession, unable to look long and see short at the same time. In this article she refers it to soft eyes. Which is a new term I will be using now!

Here’s what Wendy says:

Sally Swifts concept describes “The essentials of Soft Eyes in Centered Riding as “wide-open eyes and peripheral awareness, awareness of your entire field of vision and feeling sensations from within.”

However Wendy further defines concept of (in her words) “Soft Eyes using some images and suggest some corollaries that I often equate with this concept.

Let’s start with Soft Eyes vs. Hard Eyes. Find an object to focus on somewhere near you.

It may be a book on the table or a chair in your living room. Now stare at that object with all of your concentration. Notice what happened to the muscles in your face and your breathing when you stare at the object.

Then, instead of staring at the object, “look” at it. Allow yourself to see the other things in the room while you continue to look directly at the initial one. Notice that as you open up your field of vision the tension in your face decreases and your breathing returns. This is the difference between over-focusing on an object and looking at it. By over-focusing, you create unwanted tension in the body, which will inhibit other parts from functioning fluidly (i.e.: breathing, hip joints, legs and hands). This intense staring is “Hard Eyes” and the broader looking is “Soft Eyes.”

In Soft Eyes you have maintained your observation of the particular object you picked, however you are not putting 100% of your attention on only that object. You are now simply observing it as a central theme amongst everything around you, therefore you are allowing yourself to use both the central and the peripheral parts of your vision.

There are two parts to vision, central (detail) and peripheral (scanning). When someone is said to have “tunnel vision” it means that they are only using the focusing or detail part of their vision. When someone appears to be “staring off in space” they are only using the peripheral part.

Remember the last time you drove home from town or the barn? Did you suddenly find yourself in your driveway and wonder how you got there?

Obviously you were watching where you were going so that you made the correct turns to get home but, you were not really aware of it because you were “lost in thought.” The conceptual (pheripheral) part of your vision took over and made sure that you did not get in an accident by scanning the road ahead and informing you if any action needed to be taken. Now think of the last time you drove in heavy traffic or in a snowstorm. Suddenly all of your attention was on the road ahead of you. By the time you got home you were exhausted because you remained super-focused for the entire drive. You were only using the central (detail) part of your vision and not allowing any scanning to occur. Maintaining that kind of focus for hours is exhausting”.

Why do players have tunnel vision? Is it because of pressure? Is it because of the fear of making mistakes?  When kids play with less pressure they are more relaxed and don’t suffer fear of making mistakes. Fear & pressure can cause players to play with tunnel vision as they are tense and not relaxed. 

Again this can be transferred to playing sport, Wendy goes on to say:

“What you will probably observe is that by using Soft Eyes, both you and your horse will find it easier to accomplish the task. It required less effort on your part and your horse was more cooperative. You might also have noticed that your horse was “more forward” because you were creating a space for him to move into by looking out in front of you. Also, you may have found that it was easier to keep your balance because, by looking beyond your horse, your head is more balanced over your seat”.

“These are two images that can assist you in creating a direction to follow so that your plan takes you through figures in the arena. By allowing yourself to clearly “see” the image in front of you and using your peripheral vision take in your surroundings you can “flow” through the exercise effortlessly rather than struggling and hauling on your horse”.

“So in this first instance of Soft Eyes vs. Hard Eyes, using your peripheral vision along with your central vision, you are able to have “wide-open eyes and periperhal awareness, and awareness of your entire field of vision.” This allows you to observe your surroundings more like a horse, so that you can “see” the larger picture. As you grasp the larger concept, you can allow the individual pieces to fill in, creating a detailed understanding of the concept. By seeing in this manner you will be able to have a relaxed awareness of your surroundings without anxiety of whether you are going to “get it” or not. This mode takes the stress out of learning process and you no longer have to go into a reactive “flight” mode because you can see what is approaching instead of being surprised because something   “snuck up” on you”.

“In this regard, one of my corollaries to Hard Eyes vs. Soft Eyes is the concept of Intense vs. Intent.

When you are intense, things are strained, harsh, overbearing, demanding and unpleasant. The person who is intense is always trying to “make it happen” even when it is clear that it just isn’t right. Kind of like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, the intense person often won’t let go of something until it has been broken or beaten to death”.

“Intent, on the other hand, implies that you know what you want to accomplish and you don’t feel the need to force it. Someone who is intent is quietly directing the process as it unfolds even if momentarily it seems like it is not going in the desired direction because they know that ultimately the outcome is going to be what they want. The desired result may even change in the short term in order to accomplish the task in the long term. The person with intent will be able to sit back and relax as events occur, observing without reacting. He will alter the program as required make things easier. He will get the peg to ultimately fit in the hole because he put the peg in the right hole”.

She goes on to say,

“The person who is intense often does not trust the process and anticipates or attempts to avert perceived failure. Whereas the person who has intent is secure enough to know that they are going to succeed regardless of how long it might take or how much they will have to adapt to the situation. In this regard, when you observe someone who is a “good hand” with a horse, notice that there are several predominant features. The “good hand” remains calm in spite of how the horse is behaving, they quietly, calmly and consistently shape the situation to accomplish the task and they never lose sight of what it is they want the horse to do in the first place. In this way, the “good hand” has clear intent and allows the horse sufficient time to understand what is desired. They assist the horse in the process of learning rather than forcing to horse through the situation”. Again what can we take from this, the player that is calm performs better and makes better decisions. 

She says, “Having clear intent before approaching your horse gives the horse a sense of security. When you approach the horse lacking confidence the horse will question you and feel unsure. What you get from the horse is exactly what you put out – confusion, fear and poor results. Coming on like gangbusters, full of demands and deadlines can create a highly reactive situation because your goals feel overwhelming to the horse. They are too difficult, not because the task is hard but because the intensity in the approach caused the horse to react instinctively, triggering the “fight or flight” reflex”.

“A large part of intent is knowing what you want to accomplish before you ever catch your horse. If you are unclear about the outcome then it is virtually impossible to create it. In other words, it is important to have a clear concept of what you are looking for before you begin. According to a Feldenkrais principal (Feldenkrais is a form of body work for humans that develops body awareness and mobility) everything that your body needs to do to perform a task happens when you clearly think about it. So before you ever get out of a chair, the act of thinking about getting out the chair causes your entire nervous system to perform the task on an infinitesimal level so that when you get up everything works properly”.

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“So this means that if you want to do something, the clearer you can visualize it the more likely you will be able to achieve the desired outcome because your body has already performed the task. No you can understand why I will not let my students jump a course of fences until they can visualize their lines, turns and jumps in their mind’s eye”.

“However, not everyone can visualize. So, while visualization is a great way to practice your riding, if you don’t have that skill there are other ways to have clear intent. Intent can be in the form of an image, feeling, thought or sound. In other words, you may know what the feeling is even if you don’t quite know what it looks like. Or it may be that you know what it will sound like when you get there so your intent is to recreate that sound. This is particularly true when uncovering lameness. By listening to the sound of the footfalls on a hard surface you can discover where the problem lies. So while visualization can help in defining your intent, there are other senses that can be involved in the process”.

Taking Wendy words in a player context: Focus on getting your players use your expanded field of vision in game situations. Use your inner eyes to visualise what you want to do and where you would like to go, while allowing your “outer” vision to encompass all that is around you. In possession encourage the player on the ball to always look long first and you they see short. Getting them to scan their environment ahead. A good exercise to see who is looking all around them is to stop the possession game and ask players to tell you who is behind them, to the left and the right outside of their field of vision. Another one is to play a SSG with no bibs, so both teams have the same colours. One common principal in football for this is to ‘get your head up’ and not be focused on the ball, whilst trying to think one step and making a quick decision early.  Ultimately it’s down to fear. Fear of making mistakes, fear of failure which as we know damages a players mindset and makes them not trust themselves and kills performance.

Going peripheral with soft eyes is also very helpful in reducing stress, as it promotes a more relaxed, yet attentive, perspective and helps to free our breathing which is often constricted when we are feeling tense. I hope these information helps, it certainly gave me something to think about and answered a lot of what I was searching for.

Find out more on Wendy’s Facebook page  or Website


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

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