Q&A with Dan Abrahams – Soccer/Football Psychologist


Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychology consultant and coach scientist. He regularly consults with footballers across Europe, most notably in the Premier League. He has had some successful case studies over the past decade including helping Carlton Cole go from forgotten West Ham reserve team player to England international in just 18 months. He has delivered to a range of governing bodies including the Premier League, the FA, the PFA, the LMA and has presented at the Grassroots Conference and at the World Science in Soccer Conference.He is passionate about de-mystifying sport and performance psychology and has recently written his first book on the psychology of football called ‘Soccer Tough.’

His website is at http://www.danabrahams.com

You can also follow Dan on Twitter: @DanAbrahams77

To buy the book please click on the front cover of Soccer Tough (Below): 

Questions from youthtoprosoccer.com….

1/ What can a Sports Psychologist do to help soccer players ?

Where do I start? A sport psychologist provides a range of services, helping soccer players with challenges on and off the pitch. Off the pitch a sport psychologist can help a player develop emotional intelligence/toughness and social intelligence. By emotional intelligence I mean being able to cope with tough times, being more self-aware and being able to develop self-belief. Socially, being able to fit into a group, handle conflict and manage relationships with coaches, parents etc. On the pitch a sport psychologist can help with performance challenges such as lacking confidence, managing distractions, improving focus, and managing intensity levels. To my mind a big part of the job is helping players bridge the gap between training and playing – so helping develop structured (and confident) thinking on a day to day basis leading up to a game, helping deliver deliberate practice/training and helping devise a pre match routine. Perhaps an underestimated role the sport psych has is in working with coaches – helping coaches (and managers) develop a culture of excellence, helping build a team, and helping coaches deliver training sessions that improve cognitive skills such as awareness, focus and pattern recognition. I always say the sport psych fits somewhere in between the coaching staff and the players.

2/ How can a coach deal with team motivational problems?

That depends on how you are defining motivation. If you have a ‘lacklustre’ team you may need to set individual and team process goals. If everyone’s noses aren’t pointing in the same direction then have a team meeting and get them to set attitudinal rules and also targets for the end of the season.

Motivation is determined by importance and confidence, so as a coach your job is to raise these two attributes.

3/ Most players have experienced nervousness before a big game, how can coaches help this?

Help players develop a pre match routine that helps them pinpoint their focus and build their confidence. I always advise players to treat their physical warm up as a mental warm up and give them a few triggers and behaviours to get them into the correct mindset. It’s about sitting the players down as a group and getting each of them to write a plan that starts an hour and a half prior to kick off.

4/ How important is mental imagery?

It’s very important for a player to MANAGE his mental imagery. Every player images to some degree…but not all players know how to manage their images. In my new book Soccer Tough I teach players small ways to be able to do this. For example, asking yourself a question eg “What does my best game look and feel like?” This question opens up a catalogue of positive images related to your game. This influences how you feel about your game and subsequently influences how you perform on match day.

But lets put this into context. I’ve heard some consultants (most often trained in ‘NLP’) preach the benefits of imagery. It does indeed help and there is some solid science behind the mental technique. But it isn’t a replacement for physical practice and its benefits shouldn’t be taken out of proportion.

5/ A lack of self-confidence will have adverse effects on performance how can coaches help this?

Help a player to manage his/her self talk day to day. Soccer Tough devotes 3 chapters to this. I think how a soccer player speaks to him or herself on a daily basis is an important mediator of success. A coach must ask him or herself “What are my players rehearsing in their mind everyday?” The perfect place to manage this is on the training ground. Help players leave the training ground with their strengths in mind…with what went well in training in mind.

6/ How important is Goal Setting?

It’s very individual specific. I’m not convinced by outcome goals. I think people have to hold onto something meaningful…’meaning’ is more important than ‘goal’. Wanting to be a professional soccer player ultimately comes down to wanting to be happy, accomplishing something tough etc. Outcome goals are out there for everyone anyway…I’m not sure you need to write them down.

I think process goals are important. I help players set them for training and matches. But I don’t call them goals…I call them your ‘training script’ and your ‘match script’ because I think they drive your self talk on the pitch (hence the term script.) Again Soccer Tough has a couple of chapters dedicated to setting your match script.

7/ Should players practice concentration as a skill?

Yes…on the pitch! I’m not really into meditation as a route to improve in-game focus because I don’t think that type of practice is specific to the soccer environment. Meditation or mindfulness are great things to do…but as exercises to develop resistance to stress more so than improve specific soccer concentration (I am of course happy to be proved wrong…but I don’t think researchers will ever be able to do this.)

Focus in soccer is complex. Quirks of the brain make it difficult. The brain is attracted to the most important thing in its environment – the ball. So players will always be distracted by the ball. The brain also loves to focus on problems. So players will always be distracted by a bad refereeing decision or a mistake they’ve made. Soccer players need to consciously play ‘in the moment’ and focus on the things they can control – but it takes conscious effort everyday, and you still won’t master it. Soccer Tough addresses plenty of in-training, in-game ways to improve focus.

8/ What factors should coaches take into account when building a team?

Everyone counts. As tough as it is time wise you need to get around everyone and chat t them individually…tell them what you want from them individually and as a team mate. Make every player feel special – especially the ones with least ability. A coach should imagine every player has a tattoo on his or her heart saying “Make me feel great.”

The other aspect would be communication. In your training session coach, develop and demand great communication. You can’t insist on this enough. Have players work on this every single training session.