The Importance of Focus
GoalNation’s new article by Dan Abrahams: Is there anything more important than the ability to focus correctly when you compete on the soccer field?
GoalNation’s columnist Dan Abrahams shares his insights and advice for success on the soccer field for players of all ages. A global sport psychologist and author specializing in soccer, Abrahams is based in England and works with professional soccer players in the English Premier League (EPL). Abrahams has helped hundreds of soccer players – many of them who play in theEPL and others who play across Europe. Abrahams has held contracts with QPR, Fulham, West Ham and Crystal Palace among other clubs and works quietly, behind the scenes with many coaches from top clubs across Europe.
Do Soccer Players Really Focus Correctly?
I say focus correctly because in my view soccer players are, by and large, always focusing – but they may not always be focusing on the right thing.
It’s so easy to let your mind drift away from what it should be focusing on. This is because of the way your brain is designed. It’s designed to pay attention to the problems in your environment. So when a referee makes a decision against you it’s easy to focus on the unfairness of that decision. When you’ve made a few mistakes the brain wants to bookmark that failure – sending a message to you “Don’t do that again”. The brain is in many ways anti-zone. How annoying!
So it’s really important you develop the skill of directing your focus of attention.
Here are a few ideas:
The Basics – Body Actions
It’s so easy to say “Keep great body language” but when I say it, I want my professional players to take that meaning further.
It’s not just about standing tall or standing confidently. It’s about the micro movements that help you retain your level of attention.
We will all have heard a teacher at school say to the whole class “Come on pay attention everyone”. So what does everyone do? They sit up to attention. It’s only a subtle movement and a small shift, but that miniscule lifting of the body helps set a physiology that engages the mind.
How can we take the idea of great body language out onto the pitch with you? Well other than striving to keep positive body language I’d like you to execute the actions that help you stay switched on. To stay alert, act alert. To stay engaged act engaged. Open your eyes, keep your head up, and be absorbed in what you’re doing. Combined with this get on your toes and strive to stay sharp.
That’s basic right? That’s obvious right? Wrong!
I’ve stood by the side of Premiership training pitches for thousands of hours and seen hundreds of minutes of switched off mindsets.
There is a huge difference between knowing and doing. Players know they have to stay switched on but they don’t always stay switched on. Players know the importance of great bpdy language but they don’t always ‘do’ great body language.
I ask you to use your body actions to mediate the quality of your attention. It works – try it!
A Step Up – What next?
Here’s a simple idea that will help you stay focused. Keep asking yourself “What next?”
The number of times I’ve seen young promising players drop focus when they’ve done something good on the pitch is extraordinary.
A centra defender gets his head on the ball and gets a strong head away from his penalty area. What happens then? He switches off. He feels his job is done. Similarly a winger flights a great cross into the penalty area. What happens then? She switches off. She feels her job is done.
The defender needs to ask himself “what next?” This might be leading the line to move up, it might be thinking about the danger from the strikers who are working back or it might be predicting a dangerous ball knocked back into the area. Similarly, the winger needs to ask herself “what next?” It might be working her way towards the penalty area because the ball might break out to her. Or it might be getting ready to chase back in case of a counter attack down the pitch.
Advanced – Match Script
Keen readers of my books will recognize this idea.
I think focus during a match is as much mediated by what you’re trying to achieve as anything else. To deal with distraction you must have a keen set of controllable goals that will help you pay attention to the responsibilities within your role. I call this the match script.
The match script is a set of two or three plays that you can focus on and strive to achieve as you compete. I have written about this before on Goal Nation – but I make no apologies for repeating myself – the match script is the foundation to performance and subsequent outcome.
Pick two or three things that you want to achieve and focus on so that if you go a goal down, instead of dwelling on the negativity you can pinpoint your focus on the relevant things in your football. If you make a few mistakes you can journey your focus back to the script. If your team mates are playing poorly, instead laying blame at their door you can focus on getting on with your own job.
What does a script look like? Here are a few ideas:
- Constantly move to find space
- Play head up
- Always on my toes
- See my man at all times
- Make brave runs
Everyone gets distracted whether through poor play or through the brain’s natural propensity to distract itself. But there’s no reason to be a slave to the environment or your brain. You can learn very small, very subtle techniques to help you deal with distraction quickly and effectively.