Concentration and self-talk in football

We will talk about two main skills the players need to show during Qatar 2022.

Concentration is one of the key factors underlying elite performance. Vernacchia (2003) defined concentration as ‘the ability to perform with a clear and present focus’ (p. 144). Concentration therefore entails the capacity to focus attention on the task at hand. This means that to be successful in competitive situations athletes must be able to learn how to focus attention and control thoughts.

As former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar noted on the importance of concentration in football:

“Concentration is big part of being a footballer,”  “Everything you do during the day is centered around being able to focus for those 90 minutes during a game. But the moment you are tired, your concentration levels start to slip.”

According to Van der Sar then elite performance requires that athletes do not react to potential distractions. These distractions can be external or internal. External distractions can be visual or auditory, and may include other competitors, spectators, and media. Internal distractions may include negative self-talk, fatigue, and emotional arousal.

Elite performance therefore can only meaningfully occur when athletes (at minimum) voluntarily concentrate on the cues in their environment to pursue an action that is within their ability and are at the same time able to avoid potential distractions (Smith, 2003).

However, concentration (and the capacity to voluntarily avoid potential distractions) are not the only crucial factors affecting elite performance. Self-talk is another crucial factor. Hardy, Hall, and Hardy (2005) defined self-talk as a “multidimensional phenomenon concerned with athletes’ verbalizations that are addressed to themselves” (p. 905)’ and subsequently (Hardy, 2006) as ‘verbalizations or statements addressed to the self…serving at least two functions; instructional and motivational’ (p. 82).

More recently, Van Raalte, Vincent, and Brewer (2016) provided a definition that emphasizes the linguistic features of self-talk. According to them, self-talk is ‘the syntactically recognizable articulation of an internal position that can be expressed internally or out loud, where the sender of the message is also the intended receiver’ (p. 141). The addition of the term ‘syntactically recognizable’ is of particular importance since it distinguishes self-talk from other verbalizations (such as shouts of frustration like aaahhhh!), self-statements made through gestures, and self-statements made outside of the context of formal language. Defining self-talk as an ‘articulation of an internal position’ also contributes to anchor its meaning within the individual and places the origin of self-talk in consciousness and information processing.

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