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How Focus and Attention Work

This section briefly explains the necessary theory behind the way in which your brain works. This will put subsequent sections into context. There are two main things you need to understand:


How Parts of Your Brain Work Together

Your brain is a hugely complex system made up of a vast number of components interacting in a hugely complex and sophisticated way. Much of its function is still not understood.

You will probably be aware of the theory that function of the brain is separated into left and right hemisphere functions. This theory grossly oversimplifies the complexity of brain function. It does, however, provide us with a useful model to apply to sports psychology that has a feeling of intuitive correctness.


The Left Brain/Right Brain Model

This model holds that different high level functions of your brain are localised into either the left side or the right side in the following way:

The Left Brain (often called the Analyser) tends to be dominant, as skills it is responsible for are most intensively trained during education. This part of the brain analyses and understands new skills, and examines existing technique or attitudes for errors and faults. This part of the brain is highly effective during training in improving technique.

The Right Brain (called the Integrator) controls the best performance of a skill by integrating all the components of the skill into one flowing movement in which all the isolated components of the skill work together.

This is important because either your analyser or your integrator should be dominant in different circumstances:

Effectively, you have achieved 'flow' when your integrator is in complete control of a performance, and is not being distracted either by analysis from the left side of your brain, or by external factors.


How Your Brain Reacts to Stimuli

Your brain has evolved to protect you from danger. An important part of this is the response that draws your attention to unexpected or unusual stimuli. These might, for example, indicate that a predator is about to strike. Things that indicate danger might be: In a natural environment, this drawing of attention is very important for survival. However in a modern sporting environment these are distractions that break flow. Loud noises can come from cheering crowds. Flashes of light can come from flash photography. Movement can come from performers in unrelated events, etc.

Part of learning flow is learning to isolate the important stimuli for the sport from the irrelevant ones that cause distraction. This will involve learning to selectively override your brains natural reaction to stimuli.

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