7 – What Should an Athlete Pay Attention To?

What should an athlete focus their attention on when performing their sport? Should you pay attention to how your body is moving, the crowd, your opponents, what you need to buy at the store after the game, or something else? Is it the same if you just learning the sport? In this episode I focus my attention of focusing attention.
What Grinds My Gears: Does sports science get enough respect? Internal/external focus debate
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Key Points:
• There are different dichotomies and methodologies researchers have used when studying attention in sports
• One dichotomy is skill-focused attention vs environmentally focused attention.
• When you are skill-focused your attention is directed to anything to do with the execution of your movements. This includes both the movements of your body and the movements of any equipment you are using (for example the racquet a tennis player is holding on the board a surfer is standing on).
• When you are environmentally-focused your attention is directed to anything other than the execution of your movements. These things can be either task-relevant (that is, things that can be used to help your performance) or task-irrelevant (that is, things have no use for performance).
• Another dichotomy is an internal vs external focus of attention
• An internal focus of attention is the same as skill-focus attention except for one important difference. It does not include attention to the equipment an athlete is using, it only refers to their own body. So focusing on your hands during putting is an internal focus while focusing on the movement of the club head is not. An external focus of attention includes anything outside the body such as equipment, the movement of the ball leaving the bat, etc. so an external focus of attention is almost the same as an environmental focus.
• Most researchers studying internal vs external have used instructional methods (i.e. the athlete is instructed what to attend to) while researchers studying skill vs environmental focus have typically used secondary task (i.e., having an athlete perform an additional task like listening for a sound while they are performing their sport)
• Research from the skill/environmental camp has provided evidence from several studies that what you should focus your attention on depends on your skill level. Novices perform better with a skill-focus while experts perform better with an environmental focus. These findings are consistent with the dominant theory of skill acquisition
• Researchers from the internal/external camp have provided a very large body of evidence which suggests that an external focus of attention results in better performance and learning i.e., there is no skill level difference in what you should focus on
• Both camps area that an internal focus is bad for highly skilled performers most likely because it causing a break down in automaticity
• When you are highly skilled, focusing your attention on the outcome of your movement (e.g., the direction the ball is travelling when it leaves your bat) is the optimal strategy


More information:
My Research Gate Page (pdfs of my articles)
My ASU Web page
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Twitter: @Shakeywaits
Email: robgray@asu.edu

The Flamin’ Groovies – Shake Some Action
The Cute Leepers – All this Attention is Killing Me
Conny Olivetti – Attention Span Zero
Fallen to Flux – Outside, Looking In
Reigning Sound – Straight Shooter
via freemusicarchive.org and jamendo.com