Many a coach has offered this ‘word of advice’ during practice and at a game. Even personal trainers may use this as a trigger word for the clients, as in, “Concentrate on the muscles you’re working.” When you have a goal, or you are in the middle of a workout or a game, what exactly does it mean to ‘concentrate’?
Seems like an easy question. It means, “I have to focus intently on what I’m going after.”
It has an easy explanation, sure, but is it so easy to practice?
If it were easy to do, we wouldn’t have to be reminded to do it. Our minds are constantly churning (unless you are an expert meditator), the stimuli around us are constantly changing and demanding our attention elsewhere.
Concentration is an exercise in controlled attention.
As with any exercise, it will take practice and time to master.
There are different types of concentration. There’s broad-external, where you focus on the whole scene around you; narrow-external, where you focus on a specific point in your environment; broad-internal, where you scan your body and emotions to analyze and assess your current state; and narrow-internal, where you focus on a specific part of yourself to enhance your play.
Broad-external: Standing in the tee box, you feel the direction of the wind, observe all the trees, note the location of the bunker, the undulation of the fairway, and the distance to the green; jogging down the street, you take in the amount of traffic, the number of people out in their yards, the dogs barking, other pedestrians coming your way.
Narrow-external: You see the end line, and only the end line, observing every detail as you possibly can about it from where you are standing; standing on the court, you see only that bright yellow fuzzy ball.
Broad-internal: While on-deck, you take some deep breaths, and scan your body for any tension, any anxiety or nervousness, and while exhaling you release out that tension, and scan again.
Narrow-internal: As you walk, you pull your shoulders down and back, relaxing them so that your arms can pump more powerfully and you don’t waste any energy where it is not needed; you have thrown so many free throws you can hit the net in your sleep, so as you step up to the line your mind lies only on, “Easy up and in.”
Different scenarios demand a different type of attention. Some of you may not be used to turning so much concentration inward, while others stay wrapped up in their own thoughts so often that focusing outward may be a stretch. Remember, it is through doing what we are not great at that causes us to grow. Challenge strengthens us. Training your concentration will make you mentally tougher, making you a better athlete at whatever it is that you are doing (even if it’s walking around the neighborhood).