European football has kicked off for another season and games from the top leagues are back on the box.
But why should we care enough to watch?
Silly question, I suppose, for people who identify so closely with their team that the matches are an ‘us against them’ kind of thing, or for people like me who think the game is beautiful to play and beautiful to watch; but not everyone is like that.
But even for people who don’t fall into either of those categories, I still think there is a great deal to be gained from watching top class footballers, or any other top sportsman, in action.
You can see the reason for that in the photo up top – it’s written on the faces of the players – and it is one of the keys to success in any venture on or off the playing field.
It’s called focus.
Manchester City’s Yaya Toure has nothing on is mind other than taking the ball over or around anything that stands between him and the goal, and the West Bromwich Albion defenders are totally focused on stopping him… even if they aren’t having much success.
Interestingly, though, there is something else there that plays a huge role in the kind of focus I’m talking about.
Look at the West Brom defenders; they are going all out to stop Toure, but they also appear to be relaxed.
It reminds me of something I read in The Inner Game of Tennis where Tim Gallwey said: “You shouldn’t use your face to hit a tennis ball” … but not because it would hurt to strike the ball with your face.
He was talking about not trying too hard, skipping the grimaces and just using the muscles you need to use when you swing a racquet and keeping the rest of them out of the way… and that’s exactly what the players pictured above are doing.
They are not using their face muscles to run.
Later in that same book Gallwey says, “I used to practice concentration to improve my tennis game but now I play tennis to improve my concentration.”
In the big picture, sports such as football, boxing or tennis are not very important.
They are just forms of entertainment and as such the people who play them professionally are very similar to singers and actors; but the skills required to become a top notch sportsman are very important as they can improve other areas of our lives.
Unfortunately, the terms ‘relaxed effort’ and ‘relaxed concentration’ are a bit misleading because the word relaxed makes you think the process is easy; but as anyone who has ‘tried to relax’ knows, it isn’t.
The key seems to be finding something that you really love to do so that you can become so involved in the activity that you don’t worry too much about the outcome while you are doing it.
It can be a sport or something like painting, carving, yoga or playing a musical instrument.
Then once you have identified how effective relaxed effort can be, you can try to apply the concept to your work, your personal relationships and other areas of your life.
And if you really get it down, you might even be able to enjoy watching a football game that your team doesn’t win… but that might be expecting a bit too much.