Concentration is the action or power of focusing one’s attention or mental effort on one specific thing. The ability to execute a skill and focus on what you are doing in a distracting situation is very important to success in softball. Spectators, supporters, teammates, coaches, opponents, and officials are all potential distractions during competition. The other distraction though could be yourself. Your self-talk and how you zone in or out of what needs to be done can in itself be a potential distraction.
What is Softball Concentration
The number of potential distractions during competition can be huge. Opponents, umpires, parents, friends and even teammates can take your attention away from what needs to be done. You can also be distracted by something that happened during the day, or maybe you are feeling nervous about being new to softball or to the team. From the beginner to the elite, the potential for distractions are the same, even though the magnitude and potential consequences might not be.
If you are new to softball, you might be distracted by your skill level, and say to yourself, “what if I screw up?” It is important that you learn to refocus that thought process back into the game that you want to enjoy with your friends. The use of mental skills, like cue words and relaxation, can really help. The elite and competitive athletes might be dealing with an international competition where the results will determine if they will qualify for the Olympics. Even though this is a different level that you play at, the emotional effect it can have is many
times the same.
Focusing and re-focusing is a skill that when mastered, can be one of the best tools for staying “in the game.” Someone calling your name or the sound of a child crying in the stands because they are hungry or tired can take you right out of your zone pretty quick. Having skills like looking at a spot on the field, and rezoning your thoughts into the game is something that takes practice. Picking up a ball for example and tossing it in the air can allow you to focus on the ball and re-group your thoughts. Acknowledging the distraction and then consciously redirecting your focus will help you to deal with that distraction if it happens again.
How do you use concentration to deal with distractions? Now that is a loaded question. How many times have you heard someone say to just concentrate. Well you probably have thought to yourself that can be easier said than done. What is concentration? It’s almost the same as focussing, but it’s for something specific like a catcher who is in line to catch the ball as a runner is heading in from third base. If you get distracted you might miss the ball or miss handle the ball and the runner will score.
Concentration can be even more difficult for a recreational player depending on your skill level because there can be so many things to distract you. If you add the confidence factor of the player it might be even more difficult. If you are confident in your skills, then you will probably find it easier to keep your concentration than if you do not have confidence.
The ability to keep your focus on a specific task or object (ie. watching the fly ball as you field it) is concentration. The ability to move that concentration to something else (transition to throwing to the target while a runner is arriving at the base), is considered focus. They go together and are equally important to success in softball. There are four types of focus, and they all work together depending on the situation and what you are concentrating on at that moment.
Types of Focus
The four types of focus are as follows:
Internal Focus: this focusing is sort of kinesthetic or the feeling type of focus. Actually feeling the movement in your muscles, or concentrating on how you are physically feeling is internal focus. Internal focus is also focusing on your thoughts about something that might have happened. This is a type of focus used when you are learning a new skill or in a stressful situation where you have to do something specific. For example trying to feel how your arm and wrist move while throwing the ball, or feeling the solid contact of a line drive. During a game, you would probably not be trying to feel the skill kinesthetically but you would experience internal focus when using your mental training skills.
External Focus: is focusing attention outward on an object that is in front of you such as focusing on the ball as it is coming to the plate to drive it up the middle. Or making sure your glove is in the right position as someone is throwing the ball to you.
Narrow Focus: is focusing on something specific such as where you are throwing the ball to. This is where your focus is only on relevant cues that will affect the outcome of your performance. Your ability to keep this focus can be affected by distractions around you and your psychological arousal level. If you are not mentally focused enough, you can be distracted by surrounding cues or activity. If you are too focused, you might miss important cues such as the receivers glove moving.
Broad Focus: is focusing on more than one thing at one time. This would be something like focusing on the base runners when throwing to first base or during a run down or “pickle”. Sometimes not only the game will determine the focus, but also the specific situation in the game like the number of outs or the score. During competition and training, it is common to be using two types of focus at one time. Some of them sound the same but have very different meanings.
Some of these combinations are as follows:
Narrow / Internal Focus: is focusing on something specific that you are doing like focusing on the target (narrow) and keeping calm while executing the skill (internal) at the same time. This would be relevant when fielding the ball when there are two out and the game is on the line. When learning new skills, you will use narrow internal focus. When trying to feel your body executing the skill at the same time as focusing on the outcome that you are trying to achieve.
Narrow / External Focus: is focusing on something specific outside of your body awareness such as a target only (narrow) and the surrounding events (external) at the same time. An example of this would be during a rundown. This takes practice because the external activities (the runner and your teammates) can be very distracting. You need to focus on all of them at the same time while moving the ball efficiently. Use simulation activities to give you experience with these situations.
Broad / Internal Focus: is being aware of multiple things that are happening in the environment (broad) while focusing on something like your breathing to relax in the situation and executing the mechanics of a skill (internal). This can be a difficult task but with practice will feel natural. Using cue words and self-talk can help you to make internal focus less of a task and more of an automatic ability. This skill will mostly be used for emotional control when the game is important and the score is close.
Broad / External Focus: is focusing on multiple things happening outside of what you are doing (broad) and the sport equipment that you are using such as the ball. Fielding and then throwing the ball requires focus on your glove, the ball and the play that you will need to make while being aware of the runners.
Concentration and Focus for Youth
Children have so much going on that it can be hard for them to concentrate or focus on even one thing not to mention more than one. Give them something they enjoy and you will see concentration at the highest level. Keep their activities simple, short and active without too much discussion and they will slowly learn skills at their own pace. Too often we tell youth to concentrate, but do not teach them how to concentrate. It is important to involve them in the process. They may know exactly what’s happening but might not understand it as well as an adult. Of course this is because they do not have the experience and knowledge of life that we do either.
Give them small and easy to accomplish activities that need focus and then eventually put the activities together. Allowing them to flow into the idea of re-focusing. Let them work together on focusing and concentration strategies. You would be amazed at how they work their way through these skills with each other. Children can be much more creative than adults sometimes so we need to give them more credit for their abilities.
Concentration and Focussing for Adolescents
This can be a very challenging task for players who have so much going on in their physiological and psychological development. It is important to be aware of, and allow players to move into being at the field or training location from the environment that they are arriving from. Give them lots of opportunities to refine these skills and to experiment with different strategies. Make the activities challenging yet achievable with room for variations. If done well, learning concentration and focusing skills will become easy to put into practice during games and they will become useful in their daily lives as well.
Concentration and Focus for Adults
As adults, we have many experiences and have maybe even tried different concentration strategies. Our ability to focus has possibly been established already and is easier to put into action when needed. It is not easy though, when we add anxiety or stress, or if something else is going on in our lives that has nothing to do with softball. This is when it’s good to have skills that allow you to re-focus from the day back onto the field and performing well.
You might have to concentrate all day at your job and just want to relax and have fun playing softball. Consciously knowing this is, believe it or not, helpful to actually making softball more fun. Being able to re-focus your energy on not being stressed out and enjoying the game instead of getting anxious can actually take concentration.
Practice Makes You Better
Take some time and experiment with the different types of focus and see if you can identify them. Use activities to improve your concentration and focusing skills. Skills like relaxation and self-talk will help you as you continue to get better at concentration, focusing and refocusing.