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Concentration In Football – Lessons footballers could learn from Poker Pros

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The Premier League season in England has undoubtedly got off to a scintillating start, with Liverpool justifying much of buzz and hype surrounding them by setting the pace in style and leaving Manchester City with a major challenge on their hands.

Elsewhere, we have seen Leicester City once again emerge as a somewhat surprising force to be reckoned with, the rise of a new generation of stars at Chelsea and continued woes for the once-dominant force of Manchester United.

However, amidst all of the excitement and early season storylines, there has been one particularly noticeable trend. Put simply, is it just us or have there been more high-profile blunders and mistakes than ever before recently? And where does poker come into addressing this?

Inexplicable errors

There seem to have been a fairly substantial number of incidents this year where errors have led to easy goals for the opposition. Tottenham Hotspur have had many problems so far this season, but a notable blunder was when goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was tackled by Southampton’s Danny Ings after trying a turn close to the goal-line. Fortunately, Lloris’s blushes were spared, with Spurs still going on to win the match 2-1.

Highlights of Southampton’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, including Lloris’s blunder.


Danny Ings was also the grateful recipient of another major error during a game against Liverpool too, with Adrian inexplicably attempting a pass that the striker simply blocked and pushed in the net. However, Southampton have also had their own troubles, with a defensive mix-up gifting Callum Wilson a goal in a 3-1 victory for Bournemouth. Finally, Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson recently managed to earn an England call-up despite an error against Liverpool which saw the ball squirm through his body into the goal.

Dean Henderson made the England squad despite this error against Liverpool.


While there may be an argument that the high level of play in the Premier League simply means any small mistake will be mercilessly exposed, such a spate of errors surely puts a spotlight on the issue of concentration. The physical side of football is of course hugely important to a player’s success in the game, but these errors are undoubtedly a reminder of how mental issues are equally vital.

Attention seeking

Analysing the issue of concentration in football, leading psychologist John F Murray outlines in an article how there are two key elements of so-called ‘attentional control’ which are vital when it comes to maintaining a focus on the game.

One is known as selective attention and it is the ability we have to block out a range of different information, data, and other elements to focus on what is important at any given moment of time. The other aspect is – unsurprisingly – concentration, which is simply defined as sustaining attention on a chosen subject for a period.

Murray explains that such issues can be learned and improved upon, but adds that few players tend to take the time to address the issue. So, how could teams look to emphasise the importance of the matter and encourage players to do more to boost their focus? One option could be to provide different examples of areas that demonstrate the power of concentration, with one obvious example being the world of poker – both online and offline.

Power of poker

The card game classic that is poker comes in many different forms these days, with its many variants including the likes of Texas hold’em, seven-card stud, Omaha and stud poker. However, all of these different types of poker have one thing in common: concentration and focus are key to enjoying success and winning big money in the process. Interestingly though, a recent article by sports psychology expert Jared Tendler for 888poker has put a spotlight on how many people choose to play poker in a distracted state and – in turn – may be jeopardising their chances of winning as a result.

He outlines how smartphones, in particular, offer so many distractions these days, with players then running the risk of being distracted by irrelevant stimuli and data in the middle of a poker hand. This data takes up some of the limited capacity in your mind, which in turn leads to an issue known as ‘attentional residue’ where you remain distracted even after the cause has gone.

This can all have a huge impact when playing poker, no matter the variant, as it means that vital information you have been gathering during a game is pushed out of your head to make space for the irrelevant stimuli. As a result, players may end up missing key details, misreading hands or even forgetting about previous developments in the game – issues which could huge consequences for their success. What’s more, this is the case for both online and land-based play alike, when poker players keep their phones on whilst playing.

Boosting concentration

So how do poker professionals go about avoiding those problems and boosting their concentration – and are there lessons that footballers could learn too? In his piece for 888poker, Tendler outlines how a good place to start is to simply remove all potential distractions, while he also adds that you could make a note of any moments when distractions emerge and try to figure out whether there is any pattern to them. The latter could be useful to footballers, as it may help them understand at what point during matches they regularly start to struggle with their focus and identify areas of improvement.

Another tip from Tendler which could be transferred to the football world is to try new ways to stay interested in a game. He suggests poker players could do this by learning more about their opponents, and footballers might want to try this too. For example, monitoring how the opposition is moving the ball or forming attacks could focus the mind on the match at hand and prevent it from wandering to other issues.

John F Murray also had some views on boosting attentional control in football and he suggested steps such as reciting specific keywords as a reminder to stay focused on what is happening. He also advises that relaxing during breaks in play could help, with some sportspeople using that time to visualise a high level of execution.

Maintaining focus

The Premier League has undoubtedly served up some spectacular action so far this season, but the number of major blunders has certainly put a spotlight on concentration and whether some players are ultimately struggling with this.

Such moments are a clear reminder of the importance of the mental side of the game and, whether they choose to turn to poker or other areas for inspiration, it is fair to say that players at all levels may be able to give themselves a boost by thinking more about their focus.


 

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