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Concentration, Mind Tools and Athletes
Sport competition and training centers are busy places. The mind of an athlete can also be a busy place, but of course only the athlete can know this.
It is important for athletes to learn about attention and concentration so that they can manage these outer and inner environments and perform well.
Concentration can be defined as the athlete putting deliberate mental effort on what is most important in the moment (See the book by Aidan Moran, Sport and Exercise Psychology: A Critical Introduction).
Most athletes learn to filter out external information such as crowds, parents, and coaches when they need to. Ultimately, every athlete wants to attend to the moment, or stated differently, to the specific task at hand. They use selective attention, often naturally tuning out irrelevant data. We all use selective attention on a daily basis. We must tune out friends talking while we are trying to listen in a classroom. Or we tune out many things when we drive so we stay focused on the road.
Tool and Selective Attention
We also need to use selective attention if our mind becomes too busy and we are thinking too much. So how can we use selective attention in sport deliberately? We can use small, easy, but very important mental tools. When attention and concentration decrease (due to external or internal issues) some athletes use trigger words to bring themselves back to the task. A trigger word can be one word or a short phrase repeated over and over to help block out competing thoughts or a busy mind. It can be as simple as “focus”, “breathe”, or “in the moment”.
Some athletes use visual reminders, like a colored piece of tape on sport equipment. They often plan to have this visual reminder ready and easy to spot in the course of playing. It could even be a color of a shoe string or that of a jersey. With practice, this immediate reminder can help the athlete remember to come back to the moment. This technique becomes extremely helpful when an athlete finds him/herself obsessing over a small mistake or worrying about the future, such as the outcome of a game. An athlete must be in the present moment in order to attend to the task at hand and play his/her best. Reminders such as a keyword or visual trigger can help to discipline the mind and train it to remain focused despite distractions.