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Chapter 7 Concentration: Focus Under Pressure By Clark Perry
Overview Ø From the mass of information our senses are bombarded with, how do we filter out what is vital to success from what is useless? Ø Understanding attention Ø Attention as • alertness, • a limited capacity, and • selectivity. Ø Enhancing attention for competition
Cues Ø At any given time, an athlete can focus on some of a very large number of stimuli. Ø Cues are the stimuli that guide attention, thought, and action. They can be • relevant (helpful to performance), • irrelevant (unhelpful to performance), or • noxious (harmful to performance).
The Attentional System
In the Zone Ø Aidan Moran called the attentional system the bridge between perception, cognition, and action. Ø Attention is a skill that can be developed through appropriate practice and instruction. Ø Athletes call the state they are in when they are totally focused the zone. Mastering the skill of being able to focus on relevant cues under pressure is a characteristic of elite athletes.
Key Components of Attentional Systems Ø Selectivity: focused concentration Ø Time-sharing: coordination of skilled behavior Ø Regulation of alertness: arousal control
Three Uses of the Term Attention Ø Alertness Ø Capacity Ø Selectivity (Posner & Boies, 1971; Abernethy, 2001. )
Attention As Alertness Ø Alertness depends on the athlete’s emotional state. Ø Anxiety, arousal, and visual attention are related (Janelle, 2002). Ø As anxiety increases, it can lead to • Attentional narrowing • Controlled processing • Inefficiencies in attentional allocation • Distraction by irrelevant or threatening cues
Attentional Narrowing Ø Width or breadth of attention is narrowed. Ø Important cues are missed. Ø Mistakes are made; attention may be directed to errors. A vicious cycle occurs.
Controlled Processing Ø Choking under pressure (Lewis & Linder, 1997). Ø Once a task becomes automated, it no longer requires conscious attention. Ø But as pressure increases, attention can shift from relevant cues to focus on control of performance. We say “choking” occurs.
Inefficiency of Attentional Allocation Ø High-level performers are exceptionally efficient at allocating attention. Ø As anxiety increases, response times to relevant cues increase. (continued)
Inefficiency of Attentional Allocation (cont) Ø It may be possible to train athletes to enhance visual control to create more appropriate responses to attentional cues (e. g. , “quiet eye”) (Vickers, n. d. ).
Distraction Ø Anxiety can lead athletes to perceive cues as threatening and to focus on irrelevant cues. Ø Optimal level of arousal will help prevent distraction.
Attention As a Limited Capacity Ø Abernethy argues that an athlete’s processing capacity is fixed, but the athlete may choose to apportion it to different tasks. Ø Difficult tasks processed together have cumulative processing requirements. Ø When requirements exceed capacity, processing is incomplete or delayed.
Attention As Selectivity Ø Abernethy’s searchlight metaphor for attention involves three common errors: • Beam is too broad. Attention is not focused on essential elements for success of task. • Beam points in wrong direction. Attention is distracted by irrelevant information (example of golf). • Beam is too narrow or moves too slowly. Attention is not divided effectively among all necessary stimuli.
Distractions Ø External distractions: • • • Noise Gamesmanship Weather Playing conditions Visual distractions – Open sports – Closed sports Ø Internal distractions: • Thoughts • Fears
Enhancing Attention for Competition Ø Research by Gabrielle Wulf and colleagues. Ø Performance was increased on tasks by focusing attention on the effects of the action. Ø Should athlete think about own movements or the movement of the racket head, club, or other equipment? Ø Focusing on immediate effects is more advantageous than focusing on resultant effects (flight of ball or where ball lands).
Flow and Attention Ø Csikszentmihalyi argues that we don’t help people get into flow by trying to create it. Ø Flow happens as a result of creating an environment that matches the skills of the athlete with the challenges of the task. Ø For focused concentration, athletes need skills, perceptual awareness, self-confidence, and emotional control.