How Do Lions Think?

By Aaron Danks

I was recently in the company of a friend who is half Australian/Croatian. Whilst walking along he took a phone call from his wife, in this conversation he switched with ease and no apparent pattern between talking English and Croatian. This led me to think when he thinks in words are those words English or Croatian. He replied a mixture depending on word and circumstance. Interesting.


This led me to wonder about how do we think? How do people who have a very poor vocabulary think? How do people/animals who can’t speak ‘words’ think? How do footballers in the chaotic environment of a game think?

How do Lions think?

Picture this…
A Lion is crouched in the long wispy grass of an African nature reserve, around 50ft away is an approaching Buffalo pack within the pack are several younger Buffalo. The Lion is well trained in this circumstance and waits patiently, hiding but remaining very alert. What is going through the Lions mind at this moment? He can’t be thinking words like us… “I’ll take the small calf 2nd from the right when they pass that large tree…” How does the Lion recall upon previous successful experiences and ensure mistakes which previously occurred don’t happen again?

I started the previous scenario by asking you to “picture this…” We all utilise visualisation in our everyday life.

The Lion must think in pictures.

He visualised previous attacks, successful moments, remembering all the things he learnt by watching his mother Hunt as a small cub. He will see himself in the future playing out the successful attack in his mind. And then Executes his Attack.

‘A picture paints a thousand words.’ A phrase you will have used and heard many times before.
We must teach our young football players out on the pitch and In preparation for performance to think in pictures. Its quicker and clearer than thinking words. Its something that the worlds greatest players do now naturally, it has been nurtured into them through the practice environments they were exposed to in their younger years as a player.

Think Wesley Schneider (Ajax Academy) Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona Academy) and Paul Scholes (Manchester United Academy) these players play with vision, created by continuously looking over their shoulders and taking pictures allowing them to make decisions on time and space. I often talk about these players ‘playing in the future’ recently I heard a pundit describe Fabregas as “playing with wing mirrors on his head, he sees everything”.

How can we teach our players to think in pictures?

We should provide our players with the technical coaching details to be able to execute their actions once a decision has been made. However more of an emphasis especially at the older ages of youth football, should be placed on the decision making process.

Players should be taught how to prepare them self to receive. The ABC’s, A-Angle being available to receive, B-Body Shape never square but open to the pitch, C-Check looking over shoulder before receiving creating his vision.

Do your players have an ability to play in the future, a vision to know what to perform before execution. Do players know how to look? what to look for? And can make decisions and execution upon next action depending on vision.

Fabregas - modern day player

Within this article are two of my ten traits of the modern day player which are difficult to coach, which is why the practice environment is crucial. Practising in match realistic environments is critical to develop this and place the players in a decision making situation where utilising pictures are crucial.

Players must have the technical ability to manage the situation that arises and be capable to exploit space with a pass, dribble, shot etc. These techniques can be developed in either un-opposed or opposed sessions. However the decision making process will not be developed through coaching players who are standing in lines. Players must be exposed to match like situations so they can develop pictures in their mind which they can recall upon in the chaotic environment of a Match.

By understanding how a Lion thinks to plan and attack its prey we can relate that to football and recognise the importance of our players developing a bank of pictures to help them make decisions on time, space and execution.

Thanks for reading and I hope you found this thought provoking.

Please e-mail me your thoughts to

6 thoughts on “How Do Lions Think?

  1. Adam,

    Good analogies here. This aspect is just as critical in coaching my sport (Australian Football) and probably all “invasion” sports. In our coaching we have used the terminology “check your blindspots” (an analogy related to driving a car and using your mirrors) in a similar way to the pundit describing Fabregas.

    Thanks for an enjoyable post.


  2. Many Thanks Mike… I mean Mark Hahaha.

    I think we can learn lots from other Sports, i like your “check your blind spots” line.


  3. Another thought provoking article yet again! Keep it up. I only recently stumbled onto your blog and am really enjoying it, so thank you.

    I feel it’s down to the various components used in our brains. Forgive the technical terms as I read about this a while ago.

    Basically I feel that the top players (Fabregas etc) have such a high technical ability that their brains have learn the correct motor skills so that they can literally receive and pass the ball without thinking, in the same way that you or I are still able to walk home whilst having a conversation on the phone.

    This allows them to be able to concentrate more on looking around and adjusting their movement off the ball. They can ‘see’ the next pass based on the positions of teammates and opponents and knowing how they like to play.

    Until that habit of checking over your shoulder becomes second nature for kids along with their receiving skills, there is always an element of using up your brain’s concentration levels to make sure you control the ball properly away from danger and then deciding where to play it instead of knowing where to play it before you even receive it.

    I’ve always thought that it’d be a useful exercise to get the players I coach to play in games designed to increase awareness. Such as playing with earplugs in, or in total silence? Maybe just one player from each team is allowed to talk or stopping play getting that player to shut his eyes and while everyone else is quiet, get them to tell you where their teammates are. See how accurate he is?

    I usually set up sessions where there are players waiting to come on (say a 3v2 to goal) and talk them through what’s good and not so good about the players currently playing and try to get them to see why they are getting success or not. Having just seen it, I then hope that they go out and remember what they’ve seen and use it to be successful themselves.

    Anyway, please keep up the good work, I’ll be checking back regularly.

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