West Ham beat Hull City 2-1 last night, yet, much to the frustration of their manager, Sam Allardyce, the team was constantly booed by the home fans. Fans vented their frustration because they failed to dominate a game in which Hull played with 10 men for most of it. In the video below Allardyce mentions that his team were distracted by the boos. Here’s how players can use football psychology to deal with external distractions.

In his post match press conference Sam Allardyce said that the players were talking about the crowd booing rather than the game itself during half-time. He wanted them, and needed them to focus.

He was right to be concerned, and if he spent a little time in that changing room explaining the importance of focus and dealing with distraction then he didn’t waste his time (or his words).

To my mind distraction is one of the biggest killers in football. More goals are scored due to defenders switching off than through moments of excellence from strikers. Distracted players can’t play intelligent soccer. Their football brain works slower than normal and their physical skills depreciate. They won’t anticipate quickly and their decision making will be damaged.

Welcome to football psychology in action. When a player fails to focus correctly intelligence disappears and his or her physical functioning worsens. Something must be done – quickly! Here’s some thoughts and ideas:

Know What you Can and Can’t Control

The West Ham players would have been better equipped to deal with the booing of the crowd had they accepted that there are things in football that you simply can’t control. You can’t guarantee winning, you can’t guarantee scoring, you can’t guarantee keeping a clean sheet, and you can’t please everyone all of the time.

Whenever you play soccer there are things you can control, things you can’t control and things you can only influence. You can influence a crowd through your play, but you can’t completely control how they behave, what they chant and how they respond to the game. What you can control is how you react and respond to the fans.

The West Ham players had a choice – respond with despair to the boos ringing around Upton Park or respond appropriately. An appropriate response could either be to ignore the jeers or to use the jeers as motivation. As a football psychologist I often find myself saying to my clients – “Use it or lose it” when they have to work their way through a time of adversity.

Become an Expert Spotter

Soccer players must be expert spotters. What do I mean by this. They must improve their self-awareness – they must become aware of being distracted in the first place to be able to deal effectively with the distraction.

As I write about in ‘Soccer Tough’ – SPOT STOP SHIFT. SPOT the distraction STOP the distraction and SHIFT the distraction.

I say this because you’ll be amazed how many players aren’t aware that they are being distracted as they compete. They don’t necessarily define the booing of the crowd a distraction. They’ll happily focus on the boos (and moan about it as they hear it) but they are blissfully unaware of the damage they are doing to their game.

Know your distractions, know the damage they create, and recognise them when they arise….quickly!

Use your Body

There are many ways to deal with distractions. One of the most effective techniques is to use your body. Remember at school when a teacher would say “I want to see everyone paying attention” and everyone in the class would sit up to attention. What were they doing? They were shifting their body. They were using their body to show they were paying attention and they intuitively knew that a shift in body language in this way meant improved attention.

Whether it’s holding yourself taller or checking your shoulders or being more on your toes, being conscious of your body and intentionally moving your body is a great way to start taking control of your focus and a great way to deal with the distractions that accompany a game of soccer.

Whatever your formula for dealing with distractions, focus lies at the heart of football psychology and thus is a vital component for high performance. Get this right in every game and I promise you that you will high perform more consistently, under pressure.

Video courtesy of the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/26756579