Analyzing your Sport's Focus Requirements
Different sports, and different parts or positions in sports, require attention to be focussed on different skills and different cues.
Where success relies on a physical skill being executed, then focus on that skill.
In other cases, you may have to make a tactical appreciation before execution of the skill. The appropriate attention should be paid to this.
Alternatively where an opponent is involved, study and learn the cues that give away his or her intentions. For example, foot movements, glances in a particular direction or tensing of shoulder muscles can give away the fact that someone is about to throw a punch. Similarly the opponent may give cues as to defensive tactics to be used which may be picked up.
The focus requirements and cues to look for will differ from sport to sport and position to position. You can analyse them effectively by studying video footage of performance. This can be slowed down so that all cues can be examined. You can also pick up information on cues from books or videos on your sport.
By understanding the cues to look for, you can separate out the things to which attention should be directed from the clutter of irrelevant stimuli that occur in a competition environment.
Training to Improve Focus
You can improve focus by practice and training, much like any other skill.
You can practise it at its simplest almost as a form of meditation - firstly study an object for some time: get completely involved with it, in its shape, colour, texture, smell, etc. Then practise switching the focus to a different object, being completely involved in this, and nothing else.
Similarly you can practise focus on sounds, listening to them and then switching focus to other sounds.
This concentrated attention helps you to feel what sporting focus feels like. The rapid switching to another thing practises your ability to switch focus.
In normal training, visualise the performance of a skill using imagery, then focus on its execution as you actually perform it. Practise doing the skill without any analysis. Experience the feeling of flow. Associate this feeling of flow with a trigger word in your mind.
Keeping Focus as You Get Better
One thing to watch out for as you get better at a sport is loss of focus. This can happen for two main reasons:
- as your reactions become automatic they hold your attention less, and
- as you get better, you may find that you are not as challenged by other competitors.
You may find that these focus problems have their root in goal setting: if you are setting outcome goals such as 'coming first', then this will not be challenging if you win easily.
This can be prevented by setting performance goals that are sufficiently difficult to maintain motivation, a sense of being stretched and concentration on improving skills even when competition is weak.