Mental Skill #7 - Attentional Control

Master your attentional control to level up your focus and concentration

Concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety.

Jack Nicklaus - Former Professional Golfer

Attentional control refers to your ability to choose and maintain a focus on specific information while ignoring distractions. In sports, you need to maintain a high level of attentional control to perform at your best. Often times errors occur when our attention wanders. In this article we will discuss the importance of attentional control, the different types of attention, strategies to improve attentional control, and the role of mental training in enhancing sports performance.

Importance of Attentional Control in Sports

Attentional control is important as it directly impacts your performance. As an athlete you need to focus on relevant information, such as technique, strategies, and opponents' movements, while ignoring irrelevant stimuli, such as crowd noise, personal worries or other distractions. A lack of attentional control can lead to errors, missed opportunities, and decreased performance. The better your attentional control is, the better you will perform in high-pressure situations, where you must maintain your focus to execute your skills effectively.

Attentional control is your ability to direct your attention to specific cues, tasks, or thoughts while filtering out distractions. It plays a pivotal role in athletic performance for several reasons:

  • Enhanced Decision-Making: Strong attentional control allows you to analyze situations, anticipate opponents' moves, and make split-second decisions effectively.

  • Improved Technique: Attentional control aids in refining and maintaining proper technique and improved efficiency of skills, leading to consistent performance.

  • Stress Management: Managing attention during stressful moments allows you to be more likely to stay composed and perform at your best when it matters most.

  • Sustained Performance: If you can sustain your ability to maintain and go between concentration and focus are less likely to make errors as fatigue sets in.

Types of Attention

There are two primary types of attention relevant to athletes: selective attention and divided attention.

Selective Attention: Selective attention refers to the ability to focus on specific information while ignoring other stimuli. In sports, you must concentrate on relevant cues, such as the ball's trajectory or an opponent's movement, while disregarding irrelevant information. Selective attention is critical for sports that require quick decision-making and precise movements.

Divided Attention: Divided attention involves processing multiple sources of information simultaneously. Athletes often need to divide their attention between various tasks, such as monitoring their technique, tracking opponents, and adjusting to environmental conditions. Sports that require multitasking, such as team sports or endurance events, demand a high level of divided attention.

Key concept - You have to be able to train both types of attention!

Strategies to Improve Attentional Control

Athletes can enhance their attentional control through various strategies, including:

Goal Setting: Establishing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals can help athletes maintain focus on the task at hand and prioritize relevant information.

Mental Rehearsal: Visualizing successful performance and practicing mental skills can improve attentional control by strengthening neural pathways associated with specific tasks.

Breathing Techniques: Deep, controlled breathing can help athletes relax and refocus their attention on the present moment, reducing the impact of distractions.

Cue Words: Athletes can use cue words or phrases to direct their focus on specific aspects of their performance, such as "smooth stroke" in swimming or "quick feet" in soccer.

Routines: Establishing pre-performance routines can help athletes maintain focus and consistency, ensuring they enter competition in the optimal mental state.

Mental Training for Attentional Control

Mental training can play a significant role in enhancing attentional control and overall sports performance. Some mental training techniques include:

Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness can help athletes develop greater awareness of their thoughts and feelings, allowing them to refocus their attention when distractions arise.

Concentration Exercises: Athletes can improve their attentional control by engaging in concentration exercises, such as focusing on a single point for an extended period or tracking a moving object.

Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques: Techniques, such as thought-stopping and cognitive restructuring, can help athletes identify and challenge negative thoughts that may interfere with their attentional control.


Attentional control is a critical component of athletic performance, enabling athletes to focus on relevant information and ignore distractions. By understanding the different types of attention, implementing strategies to improve attentional control, and engaging in mental training, athletes can enhance their performance and achieve their full potential in sports.

Key Take Aways

  1. Attentional control is crucial for athletes to maintain focus on relevant information while ignoring distractions, leading to improved performance.

  2. Strategies such as goal setting, mental rehearsal, and breathing techniques can help athletes enhance their attentional control.

  3. Engaging in mental training techniques like mindfulness, concentration exercises, and cognitive-behavioral techniques can further enhance attentional control and overall sports performance.

Reflective Moment

What attentional control techniques mentioned in the article do I currently utilize in my own training and competition routines? What techniques should I add to my mental toolbox?

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