Dan Abrahams is a sports psychology expert, who uses practical and simple techniques to help athletes and footballers succeed. His latest book is titled Soccer Tough and is available to buy from all good online bookstores.
Recently I caught up with Dan to ask him a few questions.
Q. When working with players, do you find any particular position requires a greater deal of work from a psychological point of view?
I think football is a very mental game in general. It involves a lot of psychological processes – as an individual, as a team mate and as a member of a club. All positions share psychological components but also have their own specific mental challenges. I’m going to say the obvious I’m afraid – I believe the goalkeeper is perhaps under the intense microscope so that is, in my opinion, the most psychologically demanding. Making a mistake can cost a career! Next in line is the striker – miss a few times or experience a barren run and it’s a challenge to avoid a slump in form.
Q. When you began working with Carlton Cole, he had found himself struggling for form. Briefly, how did your work help him be capped for England just over a year later?
Well let’s be very clear, first and foremost it was Carlton who helped Carlton. I played a small part in his career recovery. As I explain in my book Soccer Tough there was a whole host of things we worked on but perhaps most pertinently I helped him stop rehearsing failure in his mind and helped him to start thinking confidently. This helped him to feel more confident on the pitch. Chapter 7 in Soccer Tough describes how I helped start squashing ANTs – which is an acronym for automatic negative thoughts. He would tend toward having an infestation of ANTs as he played. It was really fun to work with him – a nice guy!
Q. What psychological advice would you give to football players of all levels to help improve their performance?
Similar to above – rehearse your football in your mind in a confident manner. A quirk of the brain is it tends to remember the bad stuff – the things that go wrong in training. Shift that unhelpful mindset towards confident images by asking yourself a few practical questions. For example: “What did I do well today?” “What did that look and feel like?” By asking great questions you can uncover a catalogue of internal pictures that help you FEEL confident. Socer Tough dedicates 3 chapters to building self-belief specific to football – asking yourself great questions is a part of that journey.
Q. Do you think there any particular things which can massively affect a player’s performance negatively? What can be done before and during the game to help reduce them?
Yes. In my experience a lot of players tend to focus on the things they can’t control. For example, weather, state of the pitch, who they are playing. I dedicate chapter’s 5 and 6 in Soccer Tough to helping players deal with the things they can’t control and get their mind focused on the things they can control. Both chapters include details of my work with Richard Keogh whose challenge was to manage his thinking and focus processes during a game. That would be my basic advise – focus on the things you can control, ignore what you can’t.
Q. Research shows that our brains are often dominated by negative thoughts, how can players prone to these thoughts before a game (such as “I’m carrying a slight knock today, maybe I won’t have my best game” or “these lot are brilliant we won’t get a thing”) ignore these and subsequently improve their performance?
Read chapter 7 of my book Soccer Tough!! It’s all about squashing ANTs. It’s really challenging to do that – having a pre match routine helps. Stick to the same physical and mental routine pre match every single time. Make great thoughts and actions habits. You have to do them deliberately at first but over time they become a set part of your process.