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Dr. Sport: Understanding

by Bob Phillips, Ph.D.

There is a lot of talk about focus in golf. You hear a golfer say, "What a lousy day, I really lost my focus." You will hear a coach yell "Focus on what you’re doing". So what is focus?

Just like when you are looking through a microscope and it is in focus, you are looking at or paying attention to the one thing or the one group of things that you are supposed to be looking at or thinking about. In mental training focus has a similar, yet expanded, role. In mental training focus is a process that has several factors. One of the most important factors has to do with internal verses external focus. Internal focus means that you are focusing on things that are mental constructs, like thoughts or images. Internal focus takes you away from the external and frequently away from the present time. An example of internal focus would be seeing the ball land exactly where I want it to before I even hit the ball. Another example of internal focus is using a memory of a great shot to help me establish a peak performance mental state of mind. Obviously, the opposite of internal focus is external focus. External focus is simply being aware of a single or group of external things or events. These things or events are external and you are focused on them.

Another important factor is the concepts of broad and narrow. If you look at the dot at the end of this sentence, that is narrow focus. If you look at the entire paragraph above that is broader. If you look up and see the wall and floor and furniture in the room you are in, that is even more broader. You can be broad or narrow internal, or you can be broad or narrow external. Wherever your attention is that is where your focus is.

Another factor that I mentioned briefly above is the time factor. By this I mean present past or future. When determining which club to use you will use the past (what you have learned) to determine which club has served you well in this situation in the past and you will also use the future to check out your decision and build a positive expectation. When you make your shot or putt you will want to be in the exact present so you can focus all of your attention on accomplishing the task at hand.

All four quadrants (broad internal, broad external, narrow internal and narrow external) are all important in golf. When you combine these with the time factor you have the entire concept of "Focus". The trick is to control and manage your focus so that you can produce your best golf. Obviously being in the wrong quadrant or in the wrong time frame can cause real problems. You have already become very adept at using these concepts in most areas of your life. Taking the time to really understand and master them in golf will provide you with a powerful tool for control and performance. Remember understanding is the first step in mastering a new skill.

Bob Phillips, Ph.D.
Clinical and Golf Psychologist
Personal Coach
The Sport Psychology Training Center

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