Expanding Awareness

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High level of concentration serves as a basis for the successful performance of any kind. If attention is distracted, the performance is more likely to fail. Therefore, a professional basketball player should possess a high aptitude for employing different techniques of staying attentive in various situations. In his book, Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance, Jean Williams (2010) defines concentration as a state of being focused on something important over a needed period of time. There are different types of concentration that are to be applied on different stages and types of performances.

There are two dimensions of attention focus, which are span and direction. The span of attentional focus defines the amount of mental factors to which attention is assigned. The broad attentional focus enables a person to process multiple cues at the same time. A narrow attentional focus allows concentrating only on a few critical cues. The direction of attentional focus can be either external (directed to a person or object) or internal (thoughts or feelings).

Thus, in basketball, the coach on the sideline will frequently give a player a play (typically coded as a number or word such as "Red 96"). The player's aim is to analyze the play defining what it is in reality. For example, in basketball, the aim is to perform using a broad internal perspective. Broad-external type of attentional focus allows the player to study the relative position of the ball, his/her teammates, and the defenders, in order to define the most advantageous alternative at that moment among the others. The player performs the so-called "no-look" passes employing advanced cues that allow him/her to predict future movements of their teammates. The situation when a basketball point guard promptly assesses the disposition of the defense during a fast break also exemplifies the broad-external attentional focus.

In the book edited by Thomas Schack and Hiroshi Sekiya (2013), the editors outline that player's focus of attention influences the effectiveness of motor skill performance. Thus, in basketball, as well as in other sports, feedback and instructions affect the environment (external attention) and, thus, facilitate the performance. The same positive result can rarely be expected when the player directs attention himself/herself; in other words, when the focus is internal. Therefore, the external focus decreases both physical and mental efforts, and, eventually, causes faster movements execution. For example, when a friend waves his arms while the player tries to concentrate on the ball, it only forces the player to keep focusing on it. Thus, external distraction serves good in this particular case.

Basketball player uses narrow external focus when he/she is hitting or kicking a ball, dribbling drive, passing, shooting the ball or taking a shot. When either the shot is missed or the pass deflected, a player is recommended to switch to narrow internal focus so that the negative effect is regulated.

Basketball player is required to shift between the four types of concentration due to different performance situations. Basketball is an extremely fast moving team sport. For that reason, there is almost no time for analyzing and rehearsing during the game. On the contrary, the player always shifts from a broad-external focus (in order to see whether the other player is open and to assess the disposition of the defense) to a narrow external focus (in order to drive for the basket, make a pass or take a shot).

In attention training, it is crucial to know how to control one's attention. The athletes ought to be aware of how to switch one focus to another almost immediately. In his book, Jean Williams (2010) also outlines a number of exercises elaborated by Gauron. The exercises aim to raise athletes' expertise of different attentional styles and their effective usage.

The first exercise is called "Narrow-external drills." A person is offered to pick some object in the room and focus on it. Every detail should be observed. When a person is done with the first object, he/she should proceed to the other one. When there are no more objects to observe, the person should concentrate on sounds, only one sound at a time. The exercise would help the basketball player learn to focus entirely on the most important thing during the particular part of the game, for example, when driving for the basket. The basket then will be the object of overall concentration.

The second exercise is called "Broad-external drills." An athlete should place him/herself in the room so that he/she would see the most of it. He/she needs to observe all the items in the room at the same time. This particular exercise will help a basketball player to learn to process multiple cues at the same time such as study the position of the ball, his/her teammates, and the defenders.

The third exercise is called "Narrow-to-broad external drills." The athlete is required to extend his/her arms forward with both thumbs up. It will serve as the main focus in the distance. When the athlete manages to maintain the focus, he/she should move both arms to the side. This exercise aims to teach the athlete see and not forget about the main focus when observing a broader field.

Athletes also should learn to seamlessly shift their focus from one style to another. It means that the shifts should be made almost automatically, without giving conscious directions for him/herself. For example, a basketball player often practices a three-on-two fast break. Eventually, he/she does not need to think about the shift from a broad-external focus to a narrow-external focus during the game. Due to this practice, a pattern is recognized by brain at a pre-conscious level, and it automatically leads to a shift in the focus.  

High level of concentration serves as a basis for the successful performance of any kind. If attention is distracted, the performance is more likely to fail. Therefore, a professional basketball player should possess a high aptitude for employing different techniques of staying attentive in various situations. In his book, Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance,Jean Williams (2010) defines concentration as a state of being focused on something important over a needed period of time. There are different types of concentration that are to be applied on different stages and types of performances.

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