In a recent interview, the author Malcolm Gladwell, spoke about how much time and effort goes into developing an expertise or accumulating expert knowledge. Not only was hard work required; but a period of around 10 or so years of sustained effort and prolonged attention was necessary to eventually reach a point where one gained an expert perspective or developed an expert skill. According to Gladwell, ordinary folk did not fully appreciate the extent and vastness of what this process entailed.
An elite athlete usually starts playing sport at an early age. The process to attain greatness is a long, and at times, arduous journey. In order to succeed in elite sport, an athlete needs to develop the ability to give total concentrated attention to the task at hand.
You nurture a process by giving it your attention. You nurture a child by giving it attention. In my experience, the most powerful attention you can give a child is to be ‘fully present’ in the interactive process; to listen and observe in a supportive caring/loving context. Playing sport should be no different.
Conscious observation is a special kind of attention. Reality formation is dependent on conscious attention. ‘Where you look is what you will see’ highlights the nature of attention; it is like a torch shining onto an object that is surrounded by darkness. That is the power of attention.
In any situation, there are lots of invisible magnets that are ‘pleading’ and ‘pulling’ for attention. Fundamentally, these invisible magnets are crying out for your mental energy. While some of these magnets may be in line with your goals, others may be a distraction and take you off course in what you may want to achieve in the long run. To reach your goals, you need to become aware of where your attention is being directed. When encountering an obstacle, it is sometimes easier to get distracted than to sustain your attention on the task at hand. Distraction is a ‘dis’ attraction; still an attraction but an attraction into a place ‘of least resistance’. This usually occurs at that very moment when concentrated mental attention is needed to embed itself into the task at hand.
The most powerful pull of attention occurs when you have an interest in what you are doing. This interest helps to sustain the attention when difficulties arise. Many children today only give their attention to stimuli that ‘entertain’. In such cases, the child engages the process in a passive way, where the attention is only called on to ‘receive’ input. To achieve success in sport, however, attention is called on to interact with the challenges that are being encountered. This type of attention is of an active, participatory nature, where deeper learning and understanding unfolds.
Going on a tangent, I have a rather strange idea about addictions. In my experience, an addiction is sustained by an intense, consuming attention. Every thought and action is dedicated to the addiction. That’s why addictions are so difficult to break. Paradoxically, it may be in the nature of addiction where some of the elements of the success formula in sport can be found.