Concentration
What types are there and how to improve it...


A player becomes aware that there are more ways of concentration and finds out which ones are the most effective in a specific situation. He learns how to concentrate and this enables him to play at his best for an extended period of time.

Concentration is one of the first sports psychology terms that athletes hear about when they start practicing their chosen sport. They often hear the coaches: «Come on, concentrate. « OR »Focus now. «

BUT so many players don't know the practical ways of doing that. Or maybe they try and concentrate on things that are out of their control – like winning a game – which makes them even more anxious.

There are 4 different ways of concentration which were introduced by R.M. Nideffer:

External wide – when after hitting the ball the player perceives his opponent, where his ball will land, court position and so on.

External narrow – when the player is about to hit the ball and his complete focus is only on the ball.

Internal wide – when the player is thinking about the strategy of play before the match – tactical patterns (serve & volley, wrong footing tactics, how to play in the wind …)

Internal narrow – when the player is visualizing the serve just before the actual action.

For basic tennis psychology these different ways of concentration are not crucial. It's good to know that there are 4 main ways of concentration and that the efectiveness of the player's game is dependent on how fluidly and effectively he moves from one type to another.

The simplest and most effective ways of improving concentration are these two types:
1. emptying the mind
2. focusing on something – usually on the solution

For emptying the mind – clearing it from negative or unnecessary thoughts – a player needs to use Inner Game ways of quieting the mind. More experienced players can just stop thinking when they become aware that they are thinking too much.

When a player's mind is empty it means that he has no thoughts or words in his awareness, but that doesn't mean that he is not focused. Here is a simple demonstration: pick a small object – a pen or even a tennis ball. Throw it up in the air and catch it.

It's very probable that you were not thinking while you were watching the ball and catching it and yet you were concentrated. This is the state of having an empty mind.

Focusing on something is more useful when things don't go your way or you are having some problems. For example when you are playing in the wind your focus is on playing more away from the lines which means that you are focusing on something – your mind is not completely empty - you have a certain plan running silently in the background.

Or you play with someone with a weaker backhand and your goal is to play to that side a lot. So you are partly focusing on this task – which means that your game is not totally instinctive and yet just when you are about to hit the ball you can have a completely empty mind because you have already decided for the direction of your shot and now you just need to hit the ball cleanly.

It's important that the player looks for solutions which are automatically ways of concentrating. Staying in the problem (my backhand sucks, I'm not confident, my forehand down the line shots hit the net …) only deepens the problem because these thoughts now make you more nervous, doubtful or angry.

Another very important point regarding concentration is that it can drop very quickly but it takes much more time to get it back up.

This diagram explains this graphically.

improving concentration

Why is this important?

When a player becomes aware that his concentration has dropped and starts building it up, it will take some time to get there.

During this time he will still not be completely focused and that can cause him to make errors.

These errors can again make the player get upset and lose concentration again. So it's important that the player realizes that he is not able to play his best tennis when he is not totally focused and that there is more chance of making a mistake.

He needs to accept these mistakes as a part of his effort of getting back to the maximum concentration. When he gets back to 100% of concentration, the number of mistakes will drop significantly.

How to practice

Write down after practice:

1. Rate the awareness of your level of concentration from 1-10. 10 means that you know when your concentration drops and 1 means that you are totally unaware of your level.
2. What events or thoughts usually cause you to lose concentration? And how does that affect your play afterwards?
3. Rate yourself from 1-10 on how good you are at concentrating – either focusing on a solution OR emptying the mind.

The Mental Manual for Tennis Winners explains concentration in a very concise way and shows you 5 tennis specific ways of concentrating. That explanation is simpler and useful for every player even when he has no former knowledge of sports psychology.

(On court tennis drills that improve concentration - soon...
Stay tuned...)

Next week - visualization





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