On a cold winter’s night in London, Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard stood alone on the pitch. As football fans flocked into the 60,000-seat stadium, his teammates warmed up for the match by blasting shots against the goal. Odegaard had another plan. The 25-year-old wandered into a deserted patch of grass and began his routine.

Suddenly, one training staff passed the ball towards his feet while another closed him down from behind. In response, Odegaard quickly glanced over his shoulder, checked where the defender was, and turned the other way. 

That was it: check, the shoulder, took a touch. Again and again, he repeated the routine. There was no pass, shot, or trick. It was all about that glance.

They call the technique “scanning.” Odegaard is a master of the craft. In a single game last March, the midfield maestro registered 493 scans — a number experts called “insanely high.” Yet there was a time when he couldn’t manage even one. 

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It was 2018, and the Norwegian starlet had broken a bone in his foot. His football was over for the season. So, it seemed, was his scanning. Until he entered virtual reality.

Odegaard was introduced to the tech by a compatriot. An Oslo-based startup called Be Your Best had developed VR software that generates scanning simulations based on real football matches.

The concept tapped into an emerging phenomenon in sports tech: brain training.

“That’s a skill. And it’s going to become more and more important.

With his body incapacitated, Odegaard welcomed the workout for his mind. After strapping on a headset, he entered the first-person perspective of a player on a pitch. With haptic controllers in his hands, he directed his avatar as the match progressed.

As he played, performance metrics tracked three aspects of his scanning: the scan rate (his frequency of scans), scan timing (when he made crucial glances) and critical scans (his last look before receiving the ball). Additional measures assessed his situational awareness and decision-making.

Research suggests it works. One study found that players who train with Be Your Best (BYB) improve their scan frequency and forward passing — the principal route to goals. It’s also surprisingly fun, as I found out for myself.

Odegaard provided a more illustrious endorsement. He also contributed to the product’s development.

The playmaker wanted to test his skills at an even faster speed than elite-level football. Be Your Best fulfilled the request.

“Now that’s something that you can do in the product — play at 120% game speed,” Andreas Olsen, the company’s CEO, tells TNW.

Game intelligence

Had life taken a different turn, Olsen could have been a colleague of Odegaard’s. 

As a child in Norway, he’d been a promising prospect in the renowned academy of Viking Football Club. The youth system has developed numerous stars for the national team, including father-son duo Erik and Kristian Thorstvedt (more on the latter later).

Like Odegaard, Olsen suffered a devastating injury as a teenager. But unlike Odegaard, he decided it was time to end his football dream.

Olsen transitioned to a career as a tech entrepreneur. One day, he got a call from the co-founder of Be Your Best: was he interested in returning to football? 

“I couldn’t say no,” he says.

Profile photo of Be Your Best CEO Andreas Olsen