HOW TIK TOK IS CHANGING FOCUS AND HELPING ATHLETES PERFORM
Focusing your concentration seems easy enough, just place your energy on the important task in front of us. How many of us have forgotten someone's name only moments after it being told to you (I am guilty of this as well)? This is normally due to lack of concentration; we hear the name and move on and only remember we forgot that person's name once we need to speak to them again. The podcast above and this article will give some effective strategies to enhancing concentration, but first we need to learn about concentration.
Let's think of attention through the lens of athletic competition. Our attentional focus is a finite capacity resource, which means that we only have so much attentional we can place on a certain activity. Along those same lines, we can only be fully focused on one stimuli at a time, people who say they are great multitaskers, are really just good at switching their attentional focus from topic to topic. Look at this circle, this circle represents our attentional focus capacity. During athletic performance, ideally, we want our entire focus on the game relevant information around us. We want to keep our focus on the ball, where the defense is, what offense we are running, etc. That is already a lot for someone to be focusing on for a couple hours. When we have our full focus on our performance is when we start to have those moments of “flow”, when we do not even realize we are playing. Everything is automatic, we play smooth but fast. However, how long is it until our attention is broken by something? Maybe your first mistake, a bad call by the ref, or maybe the fans are getting in your head a little. This second circle shows what happens to our attentional focus when other non-relevant game information is added to competition.
This second circle shows how many different stimuli can pull our attention from what is important. Look how much more crowded the second circle is than the first. Each distraction may have a bigger impact on our focus than other distractions as well. Realistically, all of these happening at once may be dramatic, it may just be one or two at a time. There will be times when potentially, all of these do happen at once. How do we work on controlling our concentration and staying focused on the task at hand? I truly believe that the first step in gaining control in any stressful or pressure situation is increasing your self-awareness. How can you let go of the task irrelevant information without admitting something is pulling away from your concentration? Just like any physical skill we need to practice our self-awareness and once we get good at noticing the problem in front of us, we can switch our focus to a more relevant topic.
“TIK TOK” strategy (Williams & Krane, 2015):
This is a simple activity that will not only increase self-awareness but will help you control your concentration on game relevant information. Tik and Tok are two vocal cues you can start to use. “Tik” are the negative stimuli that present themselves during performance. These could be external things like fans, poor officiating, opponents executing better than you etc. They can also be internal negative stimuli, as in negative self-talk. When first doing this activity, when you notice a “Tik”, say “Tik!” out loud. This will help you realize how many times you have said it during performance, practice or training. An additional step would be to write down the number of “Tiks” you had that day. When you see how quickly and how many times you are focusing on negative game irrelevant information, you introduce the “Tok”. “Tok” is the positive game relevant information and positive self-talk we use to keep ourselves focused. When you notice your “Tik” during performance, reframe it with a “Tok”.
Tik: “The crowd is chanting at me, there is so much noise”
Tok: “The only way to make them quiet is to hit this shot”
The more you practice noticing your “Tiks” and changing them to “Toks”, the more focused you will be on game relevant information.