What is the Focus of your Attention?
As a coach, do you often wonder what your client is thinking about when struggling with a lesson? As a competitor, how often have you asked yourself the same question after another poor performance?! Your CONSCIOUS thought processes in the SECONDS before and during execution can frequently undermine your ability to perform both in practice and in competition. So who's driving the bus here? You or someone else? Is there nothing you can do to take control of those thoughts? What IS the focus of your attention when competing and HOW do you control it?
Whether playing a musical instrument, driving a car, riding a bike or making a sandwich physical FLOW exists when we allow our sub-conscious mind to manage our physical actions. Flow exists in ALL life tasks when we REMOVE the conscious mind from any attempt to control our physical actions. So what is the conscious mind doing whilst we perform those physical tasks? It can actually be anywhere in time and place. We don't need to control our attention whilst carrying out these tasks for we rely on procedural memories which were practiced, mastered and put safely into storage for recall when needed.
The primary psychological difference when playing Golf or any other target oriented activities, where we need to acquire a Single Pointed Concentration, is that we also need to CONTROL that which we consciously attend to for it crucially influences our ability to perform consistently and accurately. So what should your attentional focus be occupied with whilst executing your action? If you compete in a sport where you can look at your Target clearly that is where you want to focus your attention whilst executing. Your visual and attentional focus need to be in the same place. Quiet eyes and a quiet mind. The Zone.
What makes some sports such a challenge psychologically is that we have to look away from our intended target just prior to execution. This is where the problems begin for the vast majority for in this moment they remove their eyes AND attentional focus from the Target. Clearly, at the MOMENT of execution, we wish to experience physical flow with NO conscious control of our actions but how can this be achieved if the athlete is thinking about HOW to control their physical actions, as is typical in golf with swing thoughts? This flies in the face of how we perform all other life skills doesn't it?
Research is revealing that an external focus of attention in golf not only enhances the accuracy of experts but beginners as well. This is important. Unfortunately, traditional golf instruction worldwide can lead many golfers to live their golfing lives attempting to perform with an internal focus, thinking about how to consciously control their physical actions.
Many golfers strive for elusive performance whilst insisting on having a swing thought. The elite golfers attempt to overcome this same problem with the great technical skills they acquire but as explained, they also deny themselves access to consistent high performance whilst attempting to consciously control that which needs to be trusted. Every life skill we manage to PERFORM successfully is carried out without consciously attempting to control our physical actions. This is known as Trust.
So why is single pointed concentration or the "zone", as it is sometimes described, so elusive? In any sport where an athlete has time to 'think' before they execute their action, what happens AT execution is significantly influenced by what the athlete CHOOSES to think about PRIOR to this moment. Any erroneous thought prior to execution can elevate arousal levels, destroy physical flow and block your ability to visualise. Some advocate a strategy of 'thinking less'. This is not possible for whilst awake you are always paying attention to something - sight, sound, thoughts etc. It is important to understand that you can not think 'too much' but you can easily think erroneously.
Unfortunately, attempting to 'think less' only creates a void in to which erroneous thoughts will flow under the 'perceived' pressure of competition. You will then be effectively 'out of control' at that vital moment rather than 'in control' of your attention. When you understand the interaction between vision, thought and action you can begin to give up control of your body and gain real control of your attention.
If you struggle to perform consistently, irrespective of how much you 'grind' in practice, it may be time for you to switch the focus of your attention. When you learn HOW to trust your subconscious mind to manage your physical actions in golf, as in life, you will discover why learning how to PLAY golf and learning how to swing golf clubs are very different psychological skills. You have to learn how to give up control of the body and take control of your attention. This is where performance lives in target oriented sports.
Thank you for your attention. You see, you can focus when you want too!