Close your eyes imagine yourself taking a perfect free kick outside the eighteen-yard box and it sailing perfectly into the upper 90 (non-soccer players bear with me). What are you paying attention to as you strike the ball? Everyone is at their own level, therefore everyone will focus on something different. Everyone is different, obviously they will focus on different things… but the real question is why. Why is it that one of us directs our attention to the goal rather than the ball, or vice versa?
Schmidt and Lee (2008) dedicate their chapter to the affects of attention during performance. They highlight many areas but the ones mentioned here are the ones that resonated with me. Their explanation in regards to the “why” is the level of experience one has as a performer. Novice athletes tend to focus their attention more internally, related to how movements are being executed. In contrast experienced athletes focus their attention externally, on an object in the environment or the outcome of the action.
Close your eyes think about a time when you were anxious- all you wanted to do was kick the ball straight, but instead of telling yourself kick it straight, you think to yourself, “don’t kick it wide,” and sure enough… the ball goes WIDE. Schmidt and Lee would call this the ironic effects of attentional focus. Trying to avoid a particular behavior paradoxically leads to that very behavior. What should you do? Tell yourself where you want the ball!
As a consultant, helping athletes understand what to focus on in regards to their skill level will increase their autonomy and give them confidence. My clients represent a treasure, by knowing the science and the why behind their questions I can provide them with the key to unlock it.