chapter  5
18 Pages

Staying focused

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to stay focused for long in competitive sport – partly because of the way our minds evolved and partly because of the number and variety of distractions that we encounter there. To explain, for our ancestors, the experience of becoming absorbed in a task was potentially dangerous because it made them vulnerable to attacks from predators. Therefore, distractibility is ‘hard-wired’ into our minds because it was adaptive in the past to constantly monitor our environment for signs of threat. Compounding this problem is the fact that competitive sport generates a multitude of distractions for us. For example, lapses of concentration can occur as a result of bad refereeing decisions, opponents’ gamesmanship and even weather conditions on the big day. To make matters worse, you can even distract yourself by the way in which you think. Interestingly, this problem applies to performers at all levels of sport – even to elite athletes. In this regard, imagine the jumble of thoughts that must have gone through the mind of golfer Paul McGinley as he faced a tricky six-foot putt to win the 2002 Ryder Cup for Europe against the USA at the Belfry. Should he concentrate on the ball, on the hole, on some technical aspect of his stroke action, or, simply, on not missing the putt because of its importance to his team? Fortunately for Europe, McGinley not only chose the right target to focus on – the line of his putt – but by holing out, he helped his team to victory.