When you are on the course, there are a lot of elements you have to take in. Throughout the time you come upon your ball until the moment you are seeing it fly through the air, you have to shift your attentional focus many times depending on the situation. This requires much concentration and an ability to control your thoughts.
Types of Focus
Nideffer conducted studies on the role of attentional style in sport and physical activity. He viewed attentional focus along two dimensions: width (broad or narrow) and direction (internal or external). (1) Let's explain what we mean by this.
Broad - Allows a person to perceive several occurrences simultaneously; this is particularly important in sports when athletes have to be aware of and sensitive to rapidly changing environments
Narrow - Occurs when a person only responds to one or two cues and blocks out all other irrelevant cues
External - Occurs when the direction of attention is outward toward an object
Internal - Occurs when an individual’s thoughts and feelings are directed inward
Maintaining Concentration on the Course
Let's think about how concentration and attentional focus comes in to play on the course. For example, you prepare to step up to the ball before teeing off, and you need to assess the external environment: the direction of the wind, the length of the fairway, and the positioning of the water hazards, trees, and sand traps. This requires a broad external focus.
After doing this, you might use this information to select the correct club and determine how to hit the ball. This requires a broad internal focus.
Once you have formulated a plan of attack, you might monitor your tension, imagine a perfect shot, or take a deep relaxing breath as part of a pre-shot routine. You have now moved into a narrow internal focus.
Finally, shifting to a narrow external focus, you address the ball. At this time, your focus is directly on the ball with no other thoughts distracting you.
Depending on each situation, the pattern of attentional focus would vary. However, all four types of attentional focus could be a factor in complex tasks, like making a single golf swing.
Naturally, our minds like to wander to other, irrelevant things when we are not focused on holding our concentration. Often time, we have internal distractions, like worries of what could happen or thinking of a mistake made in the past. Or there can be external distractions, like spectators. People want to look good in front of others, but this can cause them to stress and tighten up. Auditory distractions can also cause us to lose concentration - cellphones, conversations among spectators, among other things.
No matter the distraction, begin able to block these out to focus on on the relevant aspects of play is important to performing optimally.
2 Strategies to Improve Concentration
Self-Talk - short and specific, either motivational or instructional phrases
Routines - helps transfer attention from irrelevant thoughts to task-relevant thoughts, allows your performance to remain automatic without interference of conscious awareness
For golfers, it is not news that concentration is a critical skill to a maintaining your focus and lowering your score. The trick is to learn how to identify and manage distractions and shift your attentional focus throughout each hole.
(1) Nideffer, R., & Sagal, (2001). Concentration and attention control training, Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance.