Have you ever thought about the difference between concentration, focus and attention? Being aware of where your attention is focused is critical to sports performance.

Concentration is defined as “the ability to perform with a clear and present focus.” It is the ability to completely focus your attention on something for a long period of time without getting distracted.

Focus can be defined as the central point of one’s attention.

Attention is what one is observing.

Focus (where your attention is) develops deep concentration (a clear and present focus where you are completely engaged and not somewhere else). Think, “Where am I now?” Concentration must be focused on this very minute……here and now. Concentration develops a steadiness of mind enabling a climber to cope with anxiety, fear and uncertainty.

A drishti (view or gaze) is a specific focal point that is engaged during asana or meditation. Research shows that wherever our gaze is our attention follows. We can think of a drishti (a single point of focus) to quiet the mind and stay concentrated without being distracted by negative chatter. Become aware of your the quality of your attention (Drishti) when you’re practicing asana, pranayama or meditation. Notice it when it wanders. Bring it back.  Choose where you will focus your attention when you are climbing.

“Drishti means focusing open, free, full attention on a given place, activity, sensation, quality or vibration. When attention is open it brings with it neither prejudice nor expectation. When attention is free it is not imposed, but establishes itself naturally. When attention is full there is nothing else accommodated by it other than its intended object: concentration is complete.” Godfrey Devereux

Drishti is the energy of focused attention.

“Vision does not stop at the eye but requires a coordinated set of brain mechanisms called on to convert visual input into rapid decisions about action.” From Vision to Decision: The Role of Visual Attention in Elite Sports Performance

Research says that elite athletes engage in a period of eye fixation (think of all those classic climbing photos or a critical crux move when you’re climbing) before and during the execution of a movement. Joan N. Vickers, PhD calls this the ‘quiet eye‘. She says that ‘the quiet eye has emerged as an important predictor for sports performance’. She also says that ’emerging research from cognitive science shows a strong relationship between shifts of gaze and shifts of attention’.  Perception, Cognition, and Decision Training: The Quiet Eye in Action By Joan N. Vickers

“A potential invariant of higher levels of motor performance is a gaze called the “quiet eye”. The quiet eye has four characteristics – it is directed to a critical location or object in the performance space; its onset occurs before the final movement common to all performers of the skill; its duration tends to be longer for elite performers; and it is stable, confirming the need for an optimal focus prior to the final execution of the skill. The processing of quiet eye information and the ability to self-regulate cognitive and emotional activity are key to the successful execution of motor skills, not only in sport…….”

What is your attention focused on when you are climbing?
Not everyone will adopt the correct type of focus when climbing! It is worth being aware of an attention model in your own mind so it can help with the ability to focus on the right thing at the right time. Direct attention away from distracting thoughts and feelings.

Broad-external focus.
“The broad-external focus involves athletes’ ability to attend to a wide range of cues outside themselves.” Nideffer, 1990
Applying Sport Psychology
Shifting attention to the route ahead. An assessment of the surrounding area.

Narrow-external focus.
“A narrow-external focus involves athletes directing their attention to one or two cues outside of themselves that are essential for performance.” Nideffer, 1990 Applying Sport Psychology
Another strategy is to divert attention from conscious thinking by focusing on an object in the environment such as the next critical hold.

Broad-internal focus
Attending to a broad range of physical and mental activities.
Taking in the current situation and using past experiences to come to a decision. A wide range of bodily sensations. Overall kinaesthetic awareness. Assessing current levels of muscular tension, feelings about confidence. Figuring out sequences of moves or gear placements/ being strategic or environmental challenges. Making a decision.

Narrow-internal focus
Focusing on a specific action of movement when making a move such as staying in balance. Focusing on deeper breathing. Focusing attention on breathing helps quiet the mind and focus on the present. It facilitates concentration by reducing excessive arousal that interferes with optimal attention.

Shifting from one to another is essential.

“Considerable evidence now exists showing that specific gaze characteristics underlie higher levels of sport performance. The quiet eye has emerged as a characteristic of higher levels of performance and is the final fixation or tracking gaze that occurs prior to the final movement.” Advances in coupling perception and action: the quiet eye as a bidirectional link between gaze, attention, and action.

“The athlete should focus on the current task and nothing else. This is, of course, easier said than done and can be hindered by internal factors, including excessive thinking, lack of trust, fatigue.”Sport Psychology for Coaches

“But technically speaking mindfulness is what arises when you pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, as if your life depended on it. And what arises is nothing other than awareness itself.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

“The best climbers avoid this cascade of distractions by locking their vision onto task-relevant targets and allowing their vision to stray only when they are at a good stance, rest, or ledge. Knowing this master skill, you gain a powerful insight on how to gather and maintain focus as you climb—direct your eyes only at objects that are relevant in the moment! Specifically, your eyes should target only the holds you are about to engage, the gear you are placing, and the rock immediately around you. Make this your modus operandi—and avoid straying eyes as you climb—and you will discover a new level of concentration that quickly boosts your climbing performance.” Eric Horst

“When attention is open it brings with it neither prejudice nor expectation. When attention is free it is not imposed, but establishes itself quite naturally. When attention is full there is nothing else accommodated by it other than its intended object: concentration is complete. When attention is direct it is immediate and effortless. When our attentive awareness has all of these qualities it can be called drushti.” Godfrey Devereux

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