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Attentional Shifts in Soccer

​The game of soccer is extremely complex, and in order to succeed, each member of the team must operate and move in complete harmony while maintaining individual and collective concentration throughout a match. Additionally, soccer is a game built on unpredictability, and the players on the field are the ones responsible for handling each situation. “ In football matches this cannot be realized because of the unpredictability of the situations. The players themselves are the directors. Only they can solve the situations while improvising. We call football a players’ sport discipline” (Rinus Michels, 2001).

In order for players to perform to their maximum potential, their minds must have the clarity to read each game situation and then quickly execute the necessary technical-tactical plays. In particular, the defensive midfielder is often the player who provides the team with balance, both offensively and defensively. With that being said, the defensive midfielder not only disrupts the opponents play with interceptions and tackles, but the player is also responsible for linking the defensive line with the attackers during the build-up. In a game full of unpredictability, the defensive midfielder plays an important role within the confines of the team.

Unlike American football, coaches cannot “call plays” during the run of play, which is why all players, and in particular, the defensive midfielder must simultaneously maintain a broad focus (assessment of entire field) in addition to being in tune with all internal (i.e. muscle tension/stress levels) and external (opponent/ball/teammates) factors. Due to the continuity of soccer, players must be trained to appropriately shift their attention in the blink of an eye.

According to the text, athletes shift their attention on a continuum from a broad external focus, to a broad internal focus, followed by a narrow internal focus, and finishing with a narrow external focus (Williams, 2010). Imagine the goalkeeper is in possession of the ball, and the team is beginning their offensive build-up out of the back. Beginning with a broad external focus, the CDM must process where his teammates are positioning in addition to processing the pressure by the opponent. Next, the CDM shifts to a broad internal focus by planning how he is going to “check” to the ball in order to progress the build-up and what he is going to do with the ball once in possession. Then, the CDM will formulate a narrow internal type of concentration to make sure he is calm and composed while checking to the ball with pressure on him. Finally, the CDM shifts to a narrow external state to focus on receiving the ball and executing the play.

As previously mentioned, soccer is a game of continuous action, and the players must be psychologically prepared to read each situation and to then execute the necessary plays. If players have “selective attention” then their system will not be overloaded with unnecessary information that can be detrimental to performance. In the Sport Pysch Handbook, the author stated “In the process of selective attention, certain information is preferentially selected for attention while irrelevant information is ignored” (Murphy, 2005) By ignoring irrelevant information, players can maintain psychological clarity in order to effectively read and execute throughout the course of a match.


Michels, R. (2001). Teambuilding: The Road to Success. Spring City, PA: Reedswain Pub.

Murphy, S. (2005). Concentration: Focus Under Pressure. In The sport psych handbook (p.119). Champaign, ILL Human Kinetics.

Williams, J. (2010) Concentration and Strategies for Controlling it. In Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (6th ed., p. 339). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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