Focus on the task at hand

Concentration can be defined as the ability to maintain focus to a specific task or situation. Sport requires high levels of concentration and the lack or loss of concentration can have negative effects, how often is a goal scored in the last minutes of a game or when the team have been caught ‘napping’. The vast array of information presented in the environment is identified by our senses sight, sound, smell and touch. The mind and body has the enormous task of registering and interpreting this information at any given moment. Tiger Woods often displays high levels of concentration. In one game as he swung to putt the whole an orange ran through his path. With a slight glance Tiger Woods was unaffected and completed the shot successfully, whilst then taking a glance at what had just passed his vision. The sportsman that lacks concentration abilities will more often than not find it difficult to effectively or efficiently apply themselves to the task at hand. Tiger Woods was able to attend to the relevant cues in his environment and ignore the irrelevant. The ability to concentrate is a skill and can therefore be learnt, like that of kicking a ball or catching a ball.

Concentration typically contains four parts;

  • Focusing on relevant environment cues: Selective attention, one is selecting what cues to attend to and what cues to disregard.
  • Maintaining attentional focus: Maintaining focus for the duration of the situation.
  • Situation Awareness: The ability to understand your environment.
  • Shifting Attentional focus: Cues alter throughout an example of this would be the change in weather conditions.

The demand for concentration can vary depending on the type of activity undertaken.  Within sport this can be demonstrated in three ways;

  • Sustained Concentration: For example, Long Distance Running, Rowing, and Tennis
  • Short  intervals of concentration: For example, Golf,  Cricket and Javelin
  • Intense concentration: For example,100m Sprint, and Skiing

Robert Nideffer (1976)[i] stated that, at any one time, an individual’s focus of attentiocan fall into any one of four categories, which are determined by the width (broad/narrow) and direction (internal/external) of the individual’s focus(narrow-internal; broad-internal; narrow-external; broad-external)

  1. A narrow internal focus is a focus on internal and kinaesthetic aspects of performance, how the movement ‘feels’. For example, the rugby player checking his body position in mid-air whilst jumping up to take the ball.


  1. A broad internal focus relates to analytical thoughts and strategy development, and is thus extremely relevant to just about every sport. For Example, the rugby player deciding who to pass to.


  1. A narrow external focus refers to the shifting of one’s attention to a solitary cue in the external environment. For instance, the rugby player may focus on the ball when catching.


  1. A broad external focus implies an assessment of the surrounding environment. For example, The rugby player with the ball uses it to assess the relative position of his teammates and opponents to determine the best possible pass.

Here are some interesting theories of Selective Attention models:

Broadbent Model: Only selective stimuli receive detailed analysis by the brain and that most information is gated out and never analysised. (Bottleneck theory)

Norman’s Pertinence model: The bottleneck occurs when the individual is required to select a response. Suggests that all stimuli is automatically activate their representations in memory and are analyzed.

Triesman Model: Combination of the above theories. A process where the brain attenuates irrevlevant information, while at the same time saving a large amount of information for analysis. Information that reaches the brain is analysised but not attended to unless it is determined to be important or critical.

Easterbrook Cue Utilization theory: As athletes arousal increases, their attentional focus narrows. Irrelevant and sometimes relevant cues are dispersed.

Information processing models and process between stimulus and a response;

  1. Bottom-up processing: is when the physiological processing from the senses are processed upwards towards the cognitive system.

Gibson (1966)[ii] (cited in Eysenck, pp 107; 1986) suggests that when all the information in the retina is taken into account many of the problems of perception disappear and there is no need to resort to explanations involving representations and stored information. Gibson argues that all information is captured in the pattern of light which reaches the perceivers eye known as the ‘optic array’. This provides invariant information about the world. The invariant information is in specific areas of the environment one can identify.

  1. Top down processing: is when the focussing is based on the cognitive system and where perception is influenced by the properties of stored information.

Gregory (1972)[iii] (cited in Cardwell, pp 312; 1996) argues that perception involves a process of actively constructing the world and this construction involves the use of inferences based on stored knowledge.

[i] Nideffer, R.(1992). Psyched to win. Human Kinetics. United States of America. Chapter 6.

[ii] Eysenck, M.W.(1986). A handbook of cognitive psychology. Lawrence Erlbaum associations Ltd, Exeter.

[iii] Cardwell, M.(1996). Psychology. HarperCollins Publishers, London.

Cox, R.(1994). Sport Psychology Concepts and Application. Brown and Benchmark.

United States of America. Chapter 3.

Weinberg, R. and Gould, D.(2003). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Human kinetics. United states of America. Chapter 16.