Tag Archive for 'concentrazione'

Does the coaches teach to youth to be focused?

The coaching profession has become increasingly challenging for many social and psychological reasons. From a social standpoint, today, for a young person of any age, it’s not possible to practice a sport without joining a sports club and attending training sessions. Therefore, anyone who wants to play sports must do so within an organization and at specific times.

Those who once went to the park or gardens near their home simply to play soccer with friends, to spend time moving around, now must enroll in a soccer school, just like those who have a true passion for the sport and play with the idea of pursuing it even as a teenager and perhaps becoming a professional player.

Within these sports contexts, I observe coaches struggling to teach anything beyond strictly technical aspects. Concentration is a problem for today’s youth (and not only for them); for example, you see youngsters preparing with incorrect posture to perform exercises, and teachers correcting the execution without addressing the original posture. The result is that the technique cannot be properly learned, but what’s even more concerning is that the youngsters don’t associate posture with technical action. Consequently, their focus is on the execution rather than what precedes it. This is confirmed by the instructor’s correction, which also focuses on the technique.

In this way, young people learn that they only need to pay attention to technique, that what precedes the shot is insignificant, and they ignore that the posture preceding the shot is essential for executing it correctly. Thus, at best, they learn to concentrate only on one part of the movement, without recognizing that sports action consists of a sequence of movements closely connected to each other.

From this mental framework arise typical phrases such as: “Today, I couldn’t feel the shots,” “every time I tried, I missed,” “today I just can’t perform that movement. It’s pointless for me to keep trying,” “I was always late on the action,” “I couldn’t hit because I was stiff.”

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.

What do athletes focus on in training?

One of the secrets of training is for the athletes to understand that what the coach is asking them to do, e.g., keep a certain pace/tempo in cyclic sports or execute a certain pattern in a tactical one is not the goal to focus on. In fact, the athletes’ goal is to focus on what to do to achieve that result.

Give it a try. Ask young athletes what they focus on when their coach gives them a drill to perform and record his or her response.

The coach gives the goal (to improve endurance and management of one’s athletic action in stressful situations) and explains that this is done through a certain activity (this is the outcome). The athletes must focus on what he or she must do to achieve that outcome that will thus enable him or her to achieve the goal stated before the work begins.

We psychologists along with coaches must play the role of facilitators of these forms of thinking that underlie any kind of improvement.

At this level, it is likely that the athletes will put their best effort into the drills. That is not the issue, the question is instead: are they engaging in doing what it takes to meet the demand or are they certainly active but focused on the wrong things?

Let us also train ourselves as psychologists to pick up on these differences during practice.

Be focused

How to assess the concentration during the match

Many soccer experts agree that there are certain specific moments in the game when a team’s concentration can be assessed.

“The key moments of a match are right before the end of the first half, right after the beginning of the second half and, depending on the result, even the last 10 minutes of the match. Right before the end of the first half because there might be an element of mental fatigue and not just physical fatigue as you have worked very hard for 40 minutes. If you concede a goal right before the end of the half, you won’t have time to recover it. You feel dejected becausé there is no chancè to come back. So it is a vital phase.

The beginning of the second half is also important. Looking at the England – Brazil game in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals. If ever two goals were killers, these two were: one five before the end of the first half and the other five minutes after the start of the second half [1].”

It seems clear from these words that, while it is obvious that concentration must be maintained throughout the entirety of the match, it seems equally clear that there are certain key moments during the course of the 90 minutes when it is necessary to have a particularly effective level of attention. A critical moment for team concentration occurs after the first goal of the match has been scored. It is possible that the players feel somewhat fulfilled and thus reduce their level of concentration for a few minutes. This drop in concentration can be very costly if it is exploited by the opposing team. In fact, to exult in excessive way after a goal, can hinder the maintenance of the correct level of concentration. After the goal it is necessary instead to rifocalizzarsi immediately on the game, maintaining unchanged the desire of success and the same engagement. If, on the other hand, players continue to be complacent about their success or become distracted by the cheers of the fans, they are unlikely to succeed.

According to many coaches, an effective way to counteract this tendency is, at the resumption of the game, to strive to win immediately the first contrast, while those who lead the team on the field should encourage their teammates to have an aggressive behavior, such as to push the opponent team on the defensive instead of letting it attack. Acting in this way maintains a constant level of competitive intensity and sends the message to opponents that you are ready to continue to play your game. The psychological objective, which merges with that of the game, is not to give opponents the advantage of being able to recover thanks to the distraction of the team caused by the goal just scored.

[1] Ray Clemence, English coach, cited in Higham, A., Harwood, C., e Cale, A. (2005). Momentum in soccer: Controlling the game. Leeds: Coachwise Ltd., p. 96.

Why to focus on breathing

As children, we learn to use cutlery, and so we will continue to do for the rest of our lives, never having to think about it again and never making a mistake.

The same goes for breathing, which is an automatic activity.

In attention training, however, we learn to focus on breathing, which is actually a useless activity because breathing is, as mentioned, an automatic process.

Precisely because it is an automatic activity it is however difficult to focus on breathing, we are not endowed with this ability, it is useless since we cannot not breathe.

But learning to do it, we learn to be aware and to guide an automatic process and, therefore, according to Paul Ekman we create new neural pathways, thanks to which we keep under control what happens at an unconscious level. and understand the automatic nature of emotions.

Consequently, the more time we devote to that breathing training, the greater our ability to control our emotions.

Concentration and self-talk in football

‘According to the attentional style approach originally proposed by Nideffer (1985) and adapted to football by Pain (2016), footballers must be able to broaden or narrow the focus of their attention quickly and appropriately in response to specific match situations. Under conditions of intense psychological pressure footballers have little time to devote to the rational analysis of a situation (e.g., pass the ball rather than shoot). This is because the speed of the game requires them to act fast, formulating thoughts within a few milliseconds. Consequently, high pressure match conditions must be extensively practiced during training until the player’s responses to such situations become fully automated. This is instrumental to allow the players to focus on playing the game without the need of constantly assessing what is best in a specific situation. In practical terms, this means that a decision and therefore a behaviour must be taken and implemented while the ball is in motion and it is in these types of situations that the differences between amateurs and experts is evident. While the amateur typically focuses on the technical execution of the task, the expert is typically more oriented towards the tactical components of his/her actions. The reason is that years of training have prepared the footballer for this situation and the player has mastered the technique which has become fully automatized (Christensen, Sutton, & McIlwain, 2016).  

            A number of studies have compared novices and expert performances (Lum, Enns, & Pratt 2002). In football (Memmert, 2009; Williams, Davids, Burwitz, & Williams, 1993), research has shown that expert players are typically more oriented to observe other players without the ball (environmental focus), whereas less experienced footballers focus their attention on the ball and at teammates to whom they could pass it (skill focus). Furthermore, highly skilled athletes analyse only a few relevant elements of the game for a longer duration compared to amateurs, who instead attempt to process a large amount of information over a restricted period of time. Thus, it seems it is not just the amount of attention or concentration that it is important to achieve top performance (accurate and quick); but rather the fact that concentration must be complemented by the skill to locate and select the appropriate environmental focus (Williams, Davids, & Williams, 1999). In football, this involves the ability to selectively concentrate (as quickly as possible) on the most significant environmental signals; those that allow the player to ‘read the game’, that is, to anticipate the opponents’ actions.’

(Source: Farina e Cei, Concentration and self talk in football, 2019)

Workshop: How to improve the sport performance with breathing

Breathing has for too long been considered only as a natural event that the individual performs mechanically to ensure survival. Today the sport recognizes the breath a different relevance, to promote relaxation, to recover from stress during the race, to increase concentration and activation of the athletes in the most different situations of their activities. From training to competition, from physical to technical and psychological preparation, deep breathing and spontaneous breathing are useful to improve the effectiveness of the athletes’ commitment. Therefore, according to the requests of the different sports, it is possible to insert breathing training modalities. This theoretical-practical workshop aims to bring together experts in the different areas of sports science and athletes in introducing this practice within the usual training activities and competition routines.

The seminar will be held by Alberto Cei and Mike Maric, on February 19, at the Centro di Preparazione Olimpica Giulio Onesti, Largo G.Onesti 1, Rome. Program and registration


Learn not only from sports and from the current experts

Leopold Auer was an Hungarian  conductor and violinist, he lived between 1845 and 1930, and he was the mentor of the best musician of that period. He teached that the learning is not a question of hours, it needs always the integration between time devoted to the practice and concentration.

“The right kind of practice is not a matter of hours. Practice should represent the utmost concentration of brain. It is better to play with concentration for two hours than to practice eight without. I should say that four hours would be a good maximum practice time. I never ask more of my pupils and that during each minute of the time the brain be as active as the fingers.”

Leopold Auer.jpg

10 good reasons to take a deep breath

10 good reasons to learn to take a deep breath

  1. improves self-control in stress situations
  2. improves the management of physical and mental fatigue
  3. first action to take when you want to relax
  4. precedes the visualization of a technical or competition action
  5. reduces the mental tension and stimulates effective thoughts
  6. promotes muscle stretching during this phase of training
  7. reduces impulsive verbal responses
  8. facilitates immediate recovery after a high intensity exercise
  9. further deepens the focus on the task
  10. reduces pre-race or competitive activation if it’s the case