Mastering Focus: Attentional Styles in Sports 

13 Dec 2023
4 min read
Author – Vedika Jogani

A recent graduate from Ithaca College with a Master’s degree in Sports and Exercise Science, specializing in Mental Performance, Vedika Jogani is OMP’s Product and Content Manager. During her studies, Vedika worked closely with Ithaca’s Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams and Women’s Volleyball Team as their Mental Performance Consultant. Vedika is currently completing her Certified Mental Performance Consultant Certification.

Have you ever heard an athlete confessing, “My performance suffered because I couldn’t maintain concentration” or “I lost my focus”?

The legendary Michael Phelps once emphasized, “When I’m focused, there is not a single thing, person, anything that can stand in the way of my doing something.”

The essence of concentration lies in an individual’s ability to selectively attend to relevant cues, whether they’re aspects of the environment or internal stimuli, while having the ability to filter out irrelevant and distracting elements. 

Focus, attention, and concentration emerge as critical elements that can either elevate or hinder an athlete’s performance.

In 1976, Dr. Robert Nideffer introduced the concept of attentional styles. His theory, known as Attentional Control Training (ACT), posits that athletes should cultivate proficiency in four distinct attentional styles.

The applicability of these styles varies based on the nature of the sport and individual differences. A crucial aspect of an athlete’s skill set lies in their ability to seamlessly transition between these attentional styles, adapting to the unique demands of each performance moment.

He put forth 4 different attentional styles: 

  1. Broad External: In this style, attention is directed outward to the environment, encompassing a wide range of stimuli. Athletes exhibiting a broad-external focus are often aware of the overall game situation and the positions of teammates and opponents. 
  1. Broad Internal: This style involves a wide focus directed internally. Athletes with a broad-internal focus may be attuned to their own thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. This type of attentional style is useful for self-reflection and strategy planning. 
  1. Narrow External: Narrow-external focus involves concentrating on specific cues or details in the external environment. Athletes employing this style might focus intensely on a single opponent, a particular part of the playing field, or a specific movement. 
  1. Narrow Internal: This style centers on internal thoughts, shutting out external stimuli. Athletes with a narrow-internal focus may use this attentional style during moments requiring precise motor skills or when executing a specific technique. 

This attentional model highlights the highly dynamic and multidimensional nature of attentional processes, laying an emphasis on the fact that athletes need to switch between these styles based on the demands of the task or situation.

Recognizing and refining attentional styles can contribute to enhancing an athlete’s performance: 

Practical Applications: 

  1. Enhanced Decision-Making: 

Athletes who master their attentional styles can make more informed decisions on the field. A quarterback with a broad attentional style might excel at scanning the entire field for open receivers, while a golfer with a narrow attentional style can focus on the precise movements needed for a perfect swing. 

  1. Improved Concentration: 

Tailoring training methods to an athlete’s preferred attentional style can enhance their concentration levels. This, in turn, helps in blocking out distractions and maintaining focus during critical moments in competition. 

  1. Adaptability: 

Athletes who can switch between broad and narrow attentional styles as needed demonstrate a high level of adaptability. This flexibility is particularly valuable in sports with dynamic and unpredictable environments. 

Unlocking the nuances of how athletes navigate attentional styles is key to discovering the secret to personalized training.

Coaches, embracing these tailored methods, have the power to amplify an athlete’s potential, honing their focus and decision-making prowess.

Immerse yourself in the OMP app, where Dr. Phillipa McGregor shares invaluable insights on mastering the art of staying focused! 



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