Harnessing Multitasking for Better Athletic Concentration

Athlete juggling a ball while listening to a coach illustrating the concept of multitasking in sports.

It’s a common sight: an athlete absent-mindedly juggling a ball while listening intently to their coach. While some trainers might find it bothersome, others recognize it as a genuine sign of enhanced concentration. Similar to how some people fidget with a pen during meetings, engaging in simple secondary tasks can actually help maintain focus. Let’s delve into the science behind this.

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The Science of Multitasking

Mark Tichelaar, in his enlightening book “Focus”, uncovers various methods to boost concentration. He references several scientific studies pertaining to the brain’s relationship with focus. Central to this discussion is the Yerkes-Dodson law. Essentially, when humans face too little stimulation, boredom sets in. Yet, an overload of stimuli can lead to overwhelming stress. Striking the right balance gives rise to genuine focus and flow.

The Balancing Act of Tasks

Tasks and activities consume a certain chunk of our cognitive capacity. For mundane tasks, you might engage just 20%, leaving a whopping 80% for distractions. As tasks get more challenging, these percentages shift. Occasionally, while engrossed in a simplistic task, maintaining concentration becomes a challenge. Adding another straightforward task can augment focus. Studies have shown that focus can spike by up to 29%. This phenomenon, like doodling during a presentation or using a fidget cube, stems from the brain filling in the gaps and leaving less room for distractions. This is multitasking at its essence.

Athlete Mutlitasking Graph

Multitasking vs. Switchtasking

However, there’s a thin line between multitasking and switchtasking. Switchtasking involves constantly shifting attention between two or more tasks. Research indicates that this can adversely affect concentration, leading to increased errors and prolonged task durations. A simple rule of thumb: if you’re aware you’re doing two things at once, that’s switchtasking. If it’s seamless, you’re multitasking.

Engaging Athletes Effectively

So, how can coaches ensure athletes remain engaged? Tailoring training to each individual’s needs and age is vital. The main goal is to optimize the cognitive load. Simplistic exercises, like basic passing drills, might require only 60% focus, leaving 40% for distractions. In contrast, complex drills, like chaos games or position plays, can demand up to 90% focus. If athletes get distracted during instructions, speeding up the explanation marginally can prevent their minds from wandering. Even allowing them to play with the ball might enhance their concentration. Moreover, music, especially familiar tracks, can fill the cognitive void, bolstering multitasking. However, new tunes might divert attention, given their novelty.

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