One of the key moments in football may depend on our state of concentration.
In any sport there are situations in which the importance of the psychological aspect becomes really remarkable. Penalties are a good example of this type of situation.
When players have to shoot penalties they usually feel under pressure, especially if penalties are decisive in the classification of a team within a championship. When feeling under pressure it is more difficult to be precise, because it is difficult to maintain an optimal level of concentration. That is why in order to have more opportunities to take a successful penalty, skills such as concentration must be trained.
What is concentrating?
Knowing how to concentrate is knowing how to pay attention to what is really important at a given moment. To master this skill, you must learn to differentiate the different focuses of attention, know how to change from one to another depending on the context, and regain concentration if it is lost due to a distraction.
The direction of the focus of attention can be internal (for example, on the emotions, thoughts, or feelings of each one) or external (for example, on the environment such as the public, the goal, or the ball). The range of focus can be wide (for example, if they are looking at various aspects of the game) or narrow (for example, when they are looking at a specific place within the goal where they are trying to get the ball).
By bringing together the different focus of attention, four types of attention control emerge: evaluation, analysis, preparation, and performance. One way to improve penalty shootout training is to have players practice all of these types so that they learn how to use the most appropriate one.
How does concentration affect penalties?
The coach can make use of the evaluation (broad and external focus) by putting videos on penalties that end in a goal or not so that the players evaluate the characteristics of both.
To train analysis (broad and internal focus), players can practice reflecting on the thoughts they have during penalties, noting which ones have helped them the most and which ones have not. Another way to use this focus is to reflect on the penalties they have had in the competition and note two aspects that they have done well and one that they have to improve.
The preparation (narrow and internal focus), can be done during competition and during training. To do this, once the players know they have to shoot a penalty, they can practice switching to this type of focus. The best way to start using this type of attention control is to take a deep breath. Four breaths are usually enough to focus on that very moment. Once they are centered they can tell themselves the steps they are going to take when taking the penalty, or if it is easier for them they can visualize themselves successfully taking the penalty.
Finally, it is time to act (narrow and external focus). To do this, when the referee blows the whistle, the players must take their time, without rushing, maintaining mental focus for at least 10 seconds and focusing on where they want to hit the ball. Once they are clear about where they want to shoot the ball they have to shoot firmly, without hesitation.
Errors and distractions
Players often lose concentration, among other reasons, due to distractions. If they use a type of attention control that is not appropriate for the activity at that moment, players are often distracted by details that are not important at that moment. That is why it is important to practice the different types of lights and gain practice in exercises in which they get used to maintaining concentration.
Another way to train your concentration on penalties is by reflecting on your sources of distraction. They have to recognize whether what is distracting them is internal (such as a lack of self-confidence, a negative internal monologue) or external (for example, the audience that is clapping and shouting in the stands). Being aware of the issues that concern you is the first step in being able to stay focused and perform optimally.
Once the distractions have been identified, the next step is to refocus your attention. To do this, players can use phrases or words that help them. As the inner monologue is something very personal, the players themselves are the ones who have to reflect and choose the words or phrases that work for them (eg ‘let’s go for it’, ‘you can’).
The advantages of simulation
Finally, one practice especially used by elite athletes is simulating aspects of competition. It is about recreating an environment in training that is as close to competition as possible so that when players have to shoot a penalty in an important match they do not notice the difference.
One of the aspects in which competitions are different from training and that increase the pressure of the players is the sounds; for example the whistle of the referee when signaling the start of the penalty, or the shouts of the public. In training, players do not usually hear these types of sounds; For this reason, if they get used to training the closest thing to the championships they will be better prepared for when they have to shoot penalties. Another way to recreate the atmosphere of the championships, especially when the event approaches, is to train with the same clothing that you are going to compete in.
Alicia Plaza, Psychologist