Concentration in the context of golf means to exclude all unnecessary stimuli so that a performer can focus on a particular task so that you can execute your mechanics effortlessly (Glad & Beck, 1999). Distractions have the potential to disrupt concentration very quickly. In the performance of a skill many cues are available to the athlete. Some of these are relevant and can aid in correct performance and some are negative which can be detrimental to performance. A high level performer has the ability to block out irrelevant cues and pay selective attention. Any irrelevant cues can be termed as distraction and this relates to a loss in attentional focus which can lead to poor performance as the athlete is consciously thinking about cues away from performance (Jackson 1999). Distraction can be divided into two categories interfering cues and irrelevant cues (Taylor, 2001). Interfering cues are internal or external factors such as crowd noise (Nideffer, 1992) and irrelevant cues takes focus away from the athlete and instead on to things such as social plans.
An athlete’s ability to attend to relevant cues is explained by the notion of attentional narrowing (Easterbrook 1959, cited in Cox, 2002). To prevent distraction, concentration is a vital mental attribute of a high level performer and in a review of psychological and psychomotor skill associated with performance in golf. Thomas and Over (1994) found that this attribute is most prevalent in high level golfers as opposed to low level golfers. The constant challenge to concentrate in golf is the result of the open environment that the game is played in which can allow many potentially evaluative observers (Weinberg and Gould, 2003). Also, the differing shots in a golf game (drive, pitch putt etc.) and varying levels of breaks in-between shots add additional barriers towards focus (Cohn, 1990). Successful golfers utilise various cognitive techniques (Thomas and Fogarty, 1997) and behaviour patterns (Cohn, 1990) that allow them to remain focused during times of distraction.
When performers are in a heightened period of concentration and are focused to the point that they can exclude distraction it may be seen as a period of flow. Flow has been described as a state of optimal experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) involving total absorption in a task at hand, and creation of a state of mind where optimal performance is capable of occurring. The apparent association between flow state and peak performance (Jackson, 1992, 1993; Jackson & Roberts, 1992; Privette & Bundrick, 1991) makes understanding flow imperative to the athlete, coach, and sport psychologist. Understanding of these factors is important in helping athletes to prepare for optimal performance. During flow states athletes are able to maintain appropriate focus.
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About David Faulkner
Sports Lecturer based in Birmingham (England) with an interest in peer effects and flow states. UEFA Licenced coach and keen golfer.