How Attentional Focus Can Help Take Your Practice Performances To The Field
The ability to focus on the immediate task and the relevant Cues increases your ability to accomplish the task. Understanding your performance and how it varies between practice and games will allow you to focus on the cues that will help you be successful in practice and competition.
Attentional Focus: Attentional Focus in sport is how you direct your focus. To perform at your best, you need to have your focus on the cues that will help you accomplish the task. Focus can be broken into Internal & External Focus along with Broad & Narrow Focus. The ability to smoothly move through these four areas of focus will improve your performance on the field and in the classroom.
External/Broad Focus: When assessing a situation you are using your External Broad Focus. A Quarterback reading the defense pre-snap is an example of an External/Broad focus. The QB knows down and distance and reads the defense. Examples in baseball are knowing the number of outs, defensive alignment, or being aware of the wind & sun. This type of focus is key to understanding the situation and what your immediate task is. Once you understand the External/Broad Focus (Situational Environment) you can then move on to your next area of focus, Internal/Broad Focus.
Internal/Broad Focus: Internal/Broad Focus is understanding the situation and developing a strategy. After you gather information with an External Broad Focus, you will then develop a strategy in your head and choose what your specific task is. An example would be a serving to a specific part of the court or player, deciding which type of serveyou should hit. Knowing your task and developing the strategy makes it easier to accomplish.
Another part of internal focus is the inner dialogue of the player and if they see the situation in positive or negative terms. Examples that may occur would be a hitter thinking to themselves "they are making mistakes I just need to keep it in play" or a team falling behind and thinking they are at a disadvantage. This area of focus is key to transferring success in practice to the game.
Internal/Narrow Focus: Internal Narrow focus is when you rehearse in your head what you are about to do. You see yourself performing a specific action in your head.
Internal Narrow Focus can also include how your body feels for example what is your heart rate, the level of muscle tension, or the energy level. Focusing on the Internal/Narrow Focus should be part of the pre-play routine. Making it a part of your routine will help keep you in your optimal zone of performance.
External Narrow Focus is when you are performing the act. A QB focused on the receiver before a throw, a pitcher focused on the catcher's glove, or a hitter focused on the pitcher's hand and ball. External Focus needs to be 100% on the cues that will help you accomplish the task. The ability to block out the first three areas of focus and be 100% focused on the External/Narrow focus when the play is occurring is the key to success. Research shows high-level athletes are more successful when they have an External Narrow Focus when trying to accomplish the task.
Attentional Focus In Practice & The Game
The demands and focus are different in practice and games. The goals and tasks are different and require different focuses and energy levels. The cues we focus on in practice, aren't always the same cues we need to focus on in a game. Live games introduce many irrelevant cues that do not help you accomplish the task. When a player lets information from those irrelevant cues enter their thought process it takes focus away from the relevant cues. Coaches, parents, and players should remind themselves of this when taking practice performance to a live game. Ask yourself; "Am I focusing on the relevant cues?" if not then reset the mindset to focus on the relevant cues.
The first three other focuses should occur before the event and then switch to the external narrow focus when it is time to perform. Then focus on the external/narrow focus cues that increase your odds of success.
Practice External Broad Focus
Examples of cues that are External/Broad areas of focus.
Teammates practicing around you
The environment around you (Weather, Indoors, Outdoors)
Game External Broad Focus
A brief list of game time External/Broad focus cues
Team you playing
Quality of opponent
Practice External Narrow Focus
Seeing the volleyball
Game External Narrow Focus
Seeing the ball
Focus on Task Cues
Practice Internal Broad Focus
Skill improvement strategy
How you talk to yourself
The effort you are putting into the practice (Deliberate Practice)
Understanding you're working on improving
Game Internal Broad Focus
Develop tasks that meet the game situation
Are you thinking of what happens if you succeed or fail?
Approach to the play
Practice Internal Narrow Focus
Are you relaxed
What is the heart rate, type of breathing, or nerves
The feedback loop of what your body feels like when you practice
Game Internal Narrow Focus
What is your energy level
Are you focused on the relevant cues