There is no training session, no competition, in which this term - focus - is not repeated, and by several individuals, either as encouragement, or as self-encouragement. Focus is often considered the fertile soil to which both cognitive and physical abilities are directed. If you are focused you perform better, we all agree on this. But, if this is true (and I don’t think there can be any doubts about it), what do we inside the process called training to develop this feature? I ask myself, and I ask you, dear (and perhaps focused) readers, because this question plagued me during the Rio Olympic Games, especially when I happened to witness an athlete winning a medal, or two or more contenders losing out on the same medal. I was trying to understand this aspect, actually also wondering why we often use the term “attention” as an analogy and synonym. But are focus and attention the same thing, the same reality evoked in different ways? In actual fact they are not. Attention can be defined as the mental state in which our minds are attracted to a particular event of interest, it may be either active or passive. It is a condition that anticipates the state of focus and prepares it. Focus, therefore, by deduction is the ability to be able to concentrate on a certain point of reference, of interest; however, it is also the ability to bring our attention back to the same point, in case we are distracted by something or attracted by something else. Very simple so far: but, how does this interaction work under stress? Obviously, we cannot provide an unambiguous or straightforward answer: everything is not as simple and predictable as the above example would have us believe. In 1958, Donald Broadbent had already reconstructed the model of the selection of stimuli at the sensory peripheral level, arguing that the human sensory periphery is very similar to information channels where the said information, arriving along and thanks to these channels, is first stored in the short-term memory and then elaborated: however, given that short-term memory is not capable of receiving all incoming information at the same time, it is therefore obliged to select, technically to activate a “filter” that alternates the opening and closing of certain perceptive channels.

 

J. A. Deutsch & D. Deutsch, unlike Broadbent, argued that the se- lection of the stimuli received in the sensory channels occurs through an elaborative analysis a priori.

 

Then in 1992, Schönpflug was able to support this hypothesis, claiming that there can be no attention if there is no prior recognition of the object or phenomenon.

 

According to Baddeley (1986), attention is a complex and costly pro- cess in terms of energy and, there- fore, has limited ability over time. It is organised in two sub-systems called the “phonological-articular loop”, the phonological understanding of information, and the “visuo-spatial sketchpad”, which has the task of sending information to the medium and long-term memory. Both elements are part of a larger container called the Working Memory. This model of working memory proposes a conception of memory interpreted not as a series of mnemonic warehouses, but rather as an active cognitive system through the extraordinary effort of the frontal lobe. According to Norman’s theory of attention, the selection is not performed through the blockage or the filter of the sensory information, but by selectively processing the information already activated in the memory by the sensory in- formation that is being collected. The demonstration of this automation was shown in an experiment carried out by Stroop, by which its effect is known - the Stroop effect. Individuals are shown words printed in different colours, and they are asked to ignore the words and to report only the colour of the words. Typically, the task was executed to perfection, except for cases in which the words represented the names of actual colours which were different from the colour of the ink. In this case, the shortcoming was due to the perception of the meaning of the word almost automatically made by the exercise, which normally facilitates reading but which, in this particular case, represented a disruptive element. The Stroop effect can be considered an example of the failure of selective attention. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and science journalist, has recently published an interesting book entitled “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence”, which deals with the topic of attentive processes from various points of view. Goleman claims that the attentive processes in question are closely related to the quality of life. The success or failure of people in all spheres of life, in his opinion, depends primarily on focus. He believes that successful people master three main types of focus: Inner Focus: is about people and their insights, it guides values and facilitates better decisions. It implies a process of self-awareness, which is one of the most important principles of success, bringing an inner control that helps people choose what to do or not to do in life.

 

Other Focus: this is the link with people in an individual’s life. It involves emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, which gives people the ability to understand another per- son’s way of thinking and of seeing, although, at least apparently, there are no analogies. It encourages, al- lowing people to put the feelings of another person above their own.

 

Outer Focus: provides a view of the bigger picture. The most successful people are able to navigate on multiple systems and to have full awareness of their impact on the world. At all levels of sport, only in a few cases, such as Formula 1 and/or shooting sports, have I been able to systematically see a programmatic and practical study both in training and in competition. I wonder then, if in other sports, the attentive pro- cesses are of such little importance that it’s enough to say, “Remember to focus!” Or if, on the contrary, attention deserves all our .... attention!

 

Antonio Urso EWF President

 

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