The ability to effectively pay attention and concentrate is critical in sports, since it ensures that athletes are not distracted by unimportant cues at the expense of important ones. Achieving this feat is not an easy task as athletes are required to prepare themselves physically through exercise and mentally through counseling. This is important especially in games where athletes and sportsmen are likely to be booed or abused by the fans. This may lower their morale and motivation to continue with the game. Cases of abuse of athletes by fans have been reported in sports, such as football, where racial abuse is rampant in some cases. In such games, the athletes need to focus on the game and ignore the fans. However, this may not be an easy task but with regular training and counseling, athletes have been known to withstand the challenges when they are playing on the field. This paper is a literature review of the psychology of attention and concentration in sports and exercise; the review takes into consideration the concentration issues of athletes of different sports.
According to Owens & Stewart (2012), attention and concentration in sports and exercise are not well studied areas in psychology. However, in the recent past sports psychologists have shown renewed interest in the area of attention and concentration, especially taking into consideration that this can change the way athletes perform in different games. Sport psychology deals with psychological and mental elements that affect and impact participation and performance of an athlete in sporting activities, physical fitness, and application of the skills that the athlete use in everyday environment. The techniques that are used in sport psychology to help athletes focus and pay attention to the major cues have been established through experiments to be effective in nature.
Owens & Stewart (2012) observe that attention and concentration that sportsmen need to have in their sports and exercise ranges from the descriptive approach to the practical approach. Descriptive attention is gained through controlling areas like the ability to process information at a quicker and effective level, so as to make decisions quickly. Attention and concentration in sports and exercise is thus important in ensuring that an athlete gets to focus on both mental and physical strength beyond the present challenge and aim at achieving the final prize in a sports competition. As such, a number of important skills are vital if an athlete is going to ignore the distractive and almost violent environment in which he/she is competing. As indicated by the American Psychological Association, the ability to pay attention and concentrate on the major cues during fields depend on a number of factors that an athlete must either learn in course of exercising or get trained through formal training sessions with sports psychologists.
Vital Skills for Attention and Concentration in Sports and Exercise
Most of the athletes work as a team, except in few sports like golf and tennis where a single athlete may participate. As such, there is a need for athletes who are playing in a team to focus and unify their attention and concentration so that they have one agenda (Owens & Stewart, 2012). The level of mental preparedness that sportsmen have can determine whether that team is going to win or not. It is therefore important that athletes manage their energy and anxiety well to avoid them affecting their level of attention and concentration during play time. An athlete who is anxious or nervous, as a result of producing more energy than is necessary, is likely to shift his or her attention from one place to another, thus affecting the overall performance. In the same way, an athlete is also likely to lose concentration because the anxiety and excess energy are creating unnecessary internal disruptions and therefore the athlete may start feeling that what he or she is doing is not right. Athletes are required to have skills in energy management and anxiety control that will help them focus on the major events and activities that are likely to contribute to their performance.
As such, coaches use various techniques to ensure that their players are able to manage anxiety and cope with their levels of energy through activities such as breathing exercises, meditation, progressive relaxation, imagery, thought-stopping and cognitive restructuring (Owens & Stewart, 2012). These exercises are important in ensuring that the athletes are able to remain focused while on the field. They help to improve the way an athlete reacts in different situations and incidences on the field, including the chances that they are going to lose the game to their opponents. An important skill that psychological coaches are now emphasizing that athletes need to have is the ability to pay attention and focus on the major indications in order to confront the situation at hand. It is a mechanism that prepares an athlete to decisively deal with a situation that arises during the playtime while maintaining his/her mental and physical abilities.
Further Owens & Stewart (2012) indicate that psychologists use the attention control training and awareness expansion to improve the performance of athletes on the field, avoiding environmental disruptions. This is a technique that enables the athletes to have self-awareness that whatever they are doing is important and therefore they need to focus on doing what they have to do and not shift their attention to any other thing. It is a way of locking the mental and physical strength of an athlete into particular event to the point that the athlete becomes consumed with the activities in that event to the level of forgetting anything else around him/her. Attention and concentration control techniques ensure that the person is completely taken into the game to avoid disruptions that a hostile audience or accommodative management of the game may produce.
Furthermore, Carnes (2011) indicated that attention and concentration in sports and exercise are revealed through the level of communication that an athlete is going to express between him/her and the fellow athletes and between him/her and the coach. To be able to communicate well with teammates and the management team it is important to ensure that the athletes remain on track to accomplish what they have gone out to do on the field. Once in a while an athlete may find that he or she is drifting away from the main agenda, but at the moment they talk to his/her teammates or coaches the attention and concentration is renewed and the athlete is reactivated again and ready to be focused on the competition.
Ultimately Carnes (2011) notes that the ability to maintain effective communication in the sports and exercise is important because it helps to reassure the athletes and give them morale and motivation that they can perform well, even when the circumstances in which they find themselves are not good. Some teams are known to have made a comeback and win trophies after having talked to their coaches or teammates. The communication is important in bringing the physical and mental minds to come back to the main agenda thus building a winning spirit and strength in them.
Similarly, the ability of an athlete to pay attention and focus on the agenda and goal that has to be achieved is also enhanced through a goal-setting process. Some athletes may go on the field without any agenda or goal that they want to achieve. However, with a well-defined goal, an athlete is able to concentrate and attend activities on the field, while literally having the mental visualization of the goals that he or she is set to achieve. Having a goal also ensures that the athlete is motivated and therefore focuses on the aspects that will lead to good performance and those that require immediate improvement (Carnes, 2011). In cases where the athlete may get injured during a game and he or she has a set goal, the athlete is going to focus and concentrate on the activities that will hasten the healing process. In a real sense, the athlete was focusing on the set goal and therefore the mental visualization of the goal helped him/her develop healing mechanisms in the body.
To this end, for an athlete to have a good goal to achieve, he/she may not really focus on winning because some athletes are not only thrilled by the thought of winning but even of participating in a given championship only. For instance, an athlete who is participating in the Olympics games for the first time may not be keen on winning any medal, but he/she will pay attention and concentrate on developing skills and techniques that are going to be used in the later games or other championships. The level of attention and concentration that such an athlete gives to the training and actual game playing aims at enabling the athlete to become a better sportsman in the future rather than becoming a winner. However, the goal is important because it enables athletes to give their best and stay focused during a game. Attention and concentration is thus an important factor of having proper goal strategies and regular evaluation of that goal (Owens & Stewart, 2012).
An equally important way of improving the levels of attention and concentration in sports and exercise is the self-talk capability. Sports psychologists have established that the ability of athletes to talk to themselves is vital as it helps them develop localized behaviors, aimed at improving their performance in a difficult situation. It also enhances the level of an athlete`s self-confidence during the game. Self-talk also enhances memory and attention of an athlete (Carnes, 2011). Furthermore, it establishes a great morale for athletes to continue playing despite the challenges faced on the field as it helps them to narrow down on the main objective that they want to achieve. Self-talk can be done during the game and it enables athletes to weed out irrelevant and negative thoughts which may affect their performance. It is also important in arousal of fight hormone that stimulates athletes to keep playing in an unfriendly environment. Consequently, attention and concentration are enhanced when the athlete substitutes negative thoughts with positive ones, because positive thoughts act as boosters to mental and physical fitness of an athlete.
Owens & Stewart (2012) observe that athletes’ attention and concentration in sports and exercise can be also enhanced through teambuilding techniques that enable athletes to have unified approaches to challenges and opportunities that they are presented with. Through team work, athletes concentrate on achieving what the team wants to achieve. Teambuilding enhances the players` attention as it outlines the objectives that the team members want to achieve. Since there is a team spirit developed in the team, team members fear shouldering the blame of having caused a failure to the team and therefore it ensures that their full attention is given to the team activities. Additionally, Owens & Stewart (2012) observe that during playtime and exercise, each athlete will feel a personal responsibility to contribute towards the team success and therefore it consolidates his or her attention towards good performance and improvement in delivery. As such, the team is able to achieve great results because each individual feels a personal responsibility to contribute to the team development. Various activities, aimed at improving team members` attention and concentration, are used by trainers to enable the athletes to develop a teamwork spirit that enhances the level of team members` attention and concentration.
Attention Control Training
The human beings` mind can easily wander from one point to another in a matter of seconds. The impact of this wandering can be devastating if thoughts do not remain on a single important topic for a long period of time. For instance, imagine a goalkeeper who’s focusing on an opponent player 18 meters from the goal post and then suddenly he changes his mind, focusing on the family problems he is having at home. This act can easily allow the opponent to score because the goalkeeper will not even see when the goal shot is made. Athletes can easily wander and drift away from the main area of concern during crucial times. As such, attention control training is important in ensuring that athletes give full attention to the game they are playing during a given time (Owens & Stewart, 2012).
Owens & Stewart therefore argue that attention control is important in enabling an athlete to have greater mental focus during exercise and the actual game. This should be done at the every opportune moment that athletes find themselves wandering away from the things they are supposed to do. As revealed in the psychologist studies, people usually know when their minds have drifted away from one agenda to another and they have the capacity to bring back their minds to that agenda. This is done through conscious control of attention where someone almost forces himself/herself to pay attention and focus on a given important matter rather than allowing the mind to subconsciously determine what one is going to think about.
Moreover, the authors indicate that attention control training teaches the athletes to take full charge of their minds; they have to realize that their actions will contribute to the team development and achievement. Attention control enhances the performance of an athlete whether in an individual-based or team-based environment. In individual games, the ability to control attention is even more important because the player is on his or her own and a little deviant of focus may have great consequences. Carnes (2011) also contributes to this fact, stating that the concentration level and the way the athletes control their thinking is important because it influences their morale and motivation to perform better or worse in competition. Attention control training is important in ensuring that athletes are aware of things that can make their minds wander away from the focus area and therefore they must guard and restrain themselves against entertaining such thoughts whenever they attempt to come. It is like an athlete becomes conditioned to think about particular things in a particular environment, and mostly when he/she is on the field exercising or actually playing against the opponents.
Attention and concentration in sports and exercise is an important area that has contributed immensely to the development of sports in many parts of the world. The ability to process information and retain short-term and long-term memories is equally important in maintaining the level of attention and concentration that will help an athlete to perform better when on the field. It is therefore important that athletes are trained on mechanisms and ways that will help them improve their performance when exercising and during actual game performance through enhanced attention and concentration.