Attentional Focus describes how we direct our thoughts. Attentional Focus is either internal or external. Researchers agree that an external focus is necessary for optimal golf performance. The ball, mechanics, swing tempo, ball flight and distant targets (Target Orientation) are all sources of external Attentional Focus. Science has also concluded that changing thoughts or shifts in Attentional Focus cause eye movement and is destructive to golf performance. If you think about your mechanics (movement of your body or the club), swing tempo (movements of the club), or ball flight (movement of the ball) your thoughts shift to mentally follow that movement and so do your eyes.
The only two external sources of Attentional Focus where the mind and eyes remain completely quiet (don’t move) are the ball (Ball Orientation) and some distant target (Target Orientation). Which orientation produces superior performance? Because mentally focusing on the ball produces a condition referred to as ‘being ball bound’ where your body becomes so rigid during the swing that you fall back and away at impact, an Attentional Focus on the ball is not conducive to superior golf performance. This can be seen in golfers who have great practice swings that disintegrate into a series of slashes, swats, and lunges when hitting balls.
The point at which are eyes are directed (where we’re looking) is referred to as Visual Fixation. The point in space where our mind is directed is referred to as Attentional Focus. So, Attentional Focus differs from visual fixation. It must be noted that our attention can be directed at a point different than where our eyes are fixated. That means we must learn to look in one direction and keep our mind focused on another point. If we learn to keep our mind focused on the target throughout the swing it will keep our eyes fixated on the ball until slightly past impact when the body naturally turns the head forward.
If you were an archer both your eyes and mind would be focused on the target? If you were shooting free throws in basketball both your eyes and mind would be focused on the basket. How accurate do you think athletes be in these two sports if their eyes and mind wouldn’t be focused on the bull’s-eye in archery or basket in basketball?
In golf we look at the ball. , but where do you focus your mind? Like these other sports, it should also be on a distant target towards which you want the ball to begin flying or rolling. Golf is one of the only activities where we don’t get to look at our target when performing.
Separating our visual focus from our attentional focus is not a normal part of our daily routine. We must train our eyes and mind to focus on different points in space – our eyes on the ball and our mind on a point somewhere in the distance. Jack Nicklaus was a master of this. While at address he looked from the ball to a pres-selected target, not once but twice. Each time he literally stared at his target for a full second or two imprinting an image of that target in his “mind’s eye.” It remained on the target throughout the swing. This is why he was so successful.
Keeping our mind on our target keeps our eyes from moving off the ball until the swing naturally moves our head forward just past impact. Remember, changing our Attentional Focus (what we’re thinking about) or an Attentional Focus on movement (ball flight, swing tempo or mechanics) is what causes our eyes to move. Developing a Target
Orientation is simple and only requires about 15 minutes practice daily for 3-4 weeks. More about Attentional Focus, Target Orientation and simple strategies for developing this powerful skill can be found in the new training program developed by Colin Cromack and myself, Target Oriented Golf: Training the Eyes, Mind, and Body for Success and can be purchased thought here at Golf State Of Mind.
Photo by Keith Allison