The ability to concentrate plays a major part in an athlete's overall performance. Without knowing how to concentrate effectively, sports performers shift their focus and become distracted. Athletes can learn the art of concentration, which in time becomes second nature.
Types of Concentration Defined
Some sports psychologists define concentration by using an illustration that is similar to an algebraic graph having an X and a Y axis. The X axis represents width. On one end is narrow focus and on the other end lies broad focus. The intercepting Y axis has external focus on one end and internal focus on the other. The two dimensions create quadrants that interact with each other. Depending on the type of sport played, an athlete's focus of concentration lies within one of four regions:
• Broad and external
• Broad and internal
• Narrow and external
• Narrow and internal
Athletes engage in broad/external concentration when assessing the field and events occurring around them, which enables them to react when needed. Broad/internal concentration comes into play when a performer needs to solve a problem or devise a strategy. They might also use this area to establish personal training goals and programs. Narrow/external focus is helpful when anticipating the moment in which to make a critical move. This might entail waiting for the shot of a starting pistol, or an outfielder waiting for the moment when a baseball player hits the ball. Athletes engage in narrow/internal focus in order to mentally practice or rehearse or when needing to organize information.
In the Zone
Successful professional athletes hone their skills of concentration to be able to rely more on the external areas of focus. When achieving this level of concentration, time seems to dramatically slow down, the sports performer feels in control of the situation and anticipates what will happen next. Their actions become automatic and effortless. They often describe these moments as being “in the zone.”
While learning the art of sports concentration, an athlete's ability to travel between narrow and broad focus areas depends on their level of emotional intensity. Athletes must learn to become almost robotic. When circumstances require a broad degree of external focus, high levels of emotional intensity interfere with the level of concentration needed and subsequently interferes with response time.
Achieving Optimal Performance
Athletes perform at their optimal best when equipped with the ability to direct their focus as needed in order to execute the necessary action automatically. When entering internal concentration areas during performance to complete a task or recover from an error, they are not considered in the correct concentration zone.