The Point of Distraction | Psychology & Cognitive Science | Cognitive Science

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TOur TalEs & TruE

Grant Dodd
The curse of outside distractions

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ne of the best books written on sport psychology is sadly one of the least appreciated. Such seems to be the way of things when the writer is perceived as concentrating on academically orientated aspects of performance enhancement over populist, anecdote-driven rhetoric. But Terry Orlick’s Psyching for Sport: Mental Training For Athletes is as comprehensive an insight into the practical application of sport psychology as exists. The Canadian veteran is one of the most respected authorities in his field, and draws on decades of experience at the pinnacle of elite sport consultation in formulating his theories. Back in the day when I was searching for whatever key would open the lock on the mysteries of pro golf, a chapter in Psyching for Sport resonated deeply with me. It dealt with the key attributes that Orlick identified as common to successful, high-performance athletes. One was the athlete’s ability to bring competition-like intensity to their training and practice sessions. However, what caught my attention the most was his assertion that the ability to deal with distractions was as important a skill as many physical attributes. The more I thought about it, the Tiger Woods’ more sense it made. If you prepared golf hit a for competition to the fullest of your new low at the WGC– abilities, then surely you should also Bridgestone prepare for eventualities that could Invitational, an event he used possibly distract you from delivering on to ‘own’. your full potential. For instance, how would you handle an argument with your significant other prior to teeing off in the final round of an important event? What would your reaction be to being targeted by an unruly spectator directing personal comments at you? Most golfers have a mental plan of action if they hit a shot out-of-bounds or miss a short putt, but rarely one that deals with issues that originate outside their physical sphere of self-influence. It’s a crucial oversight, of course, given the possibility that a lapse of concentration at a crucial time might be the difference between sporting immortality and anonymity.
ocTobER 2010

Going through a divorce would certainly qualify in the distraction category. Regardless of what was on the line, the mental toll wreaked by such a conflict would test the fortitude of the most Zen-like competitor on the planet. And when you think of unflappable, Zen-like, imperviousto-pressure concentration, you think of Tiger Woods. Or you used to, pre-fire hydrant imbroglio and certainly pre-divorce proceedings. But Tiger Woods 2010 is a different model to the one that preceded it by some margin, a factor that can only be ascribed to the turmoil in his private life at present. A number of pundits have begun writing obituaries of Woods’ career. They are undoubtedly premature, for who, in similar circumstances, would be equipped to deal emotionally with what is going on? Even those pointing to the nature of his self-inflicted wounds would be likely to admit that the pain of separation from one’s children, and the removal of the counter-balancing influence of family life, is a disruption that only someone with a heart of stone would be able to push to one side. Woods’ ability to execute under pressure has never been in doubt. A capacity to funnel his energies into a solitary moment in time has perhaps been the most important factor separating him from his peers over the past decade. But for now, he is a shadow of the bulletproof competitor of years past. Void of the singularity of purpose that was once the fulcrum of his dominance, the distracted champion is present at tournaments physically but the mind and spirit appear only partially in attendance. His place in history as one of the two greatest golfers to have lived suggests that this is a momentary shift of equilibrium that the passage of time will likely correct. In the interim, perhaps a lie down with a good book is in order. Grant Dodd played in the 1997 and 1998 British Opens and is now a commentator for golf broadcasts on One and Ten. To ask Grant a question, visit grantdodd.blogspot.com

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Australian Golf Digest

STEPHEN SZURLEJ

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