Players tell us that they have difficulty maintaining focus when there are distractions. They also have difficulty staying focused when they are waiting.
The US Open 2011 had a great first week, but days 9 and 10 were rained out (okay, about 10 minutes were played on day 10) and this is frustrating for everyone involved. Now, we are at the start of day 11 and it is raining in New York City. Imagine the frustration that players have in the face of this kind of scheduling difficulty.
Where Does Focus Come From?
Our ability to focus is based in those same brain circuits which control our coordination. When we have trouble with our coordination, we also have difficulty with our ability to maintain focus. These capabilities do not seem to be connected and I did not think they were linked until I started teaching children with Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD & ADHD).
When I took these children through rhythm and timing training, they would dramatically improve their attention and focus, but they would also dramatically improve their coordination. Before the training they would not be able to run, throw or catch a ball, jump rope, or even skip. After the training, they would enjoy excellent coordination and begin to excel in sports they had struggled with or had shunned before.
How Do We Focus?
Our brain has many different sensory management circuits. One set of these circuits are gating circuits for external auditory, kinesthetic, and visual data. They are called gating circuits because we open and close them to permit in or block out a particular data stream. Our rhythm and timing circuits are used for the proper control of these gates. If our rhythm and timing has problems, we cannot control these gates and we can have a variety of focus distractions and difficulties.
Let me give you a concrete example of what these gating circuits can do for us. A person with good focus can sit at a table in a restaurant and focus in on a conversation at the next table. And, they can focus out (not hear) the conversations at the other nearby tables.
One of my clients is a young quadriplegic lawyer. His hearing was not properly gated. He was easily distracted by unwanted audio signals. He had difficulty sleeping at night because of cars entering and leaving his apartment complex. His gating circuits were almost always open wide. He had no control over what he heard.
After the rhythm and timing training he wrote me an email telling me about a seminar he had just attended. Several times during the program the presenter stopped and apologized to the class for the noise coming from the next classroom. He told me he had not heard that noise until the presenter mentioned it. Last year he and I were in a restaurant together and his care-giver motioned for him to listen to the music being played. He was surprised that he had not noticed the music, because it was his favorite song.
So, now it is clear that he does not have to be distracted by audio signals. He is able to focus in on things he wants to hear and focus out those things he does not care to listen to. In the seminar, he wanted to focus in on the information of the seminar and in the restaurant, he wanted to focus in on our conversation. Other sounds were unwanted and were not a distraction to him.
Does This Only Work For Audio Signals?
Our brain has these kinds of gating circuits for visual and kinesthetic data, as well as audio.
We all know that some people have a higher pain tolerance than others. This means that they can keep their kinesthetic pain gates closed a lot more easily and a lot longer than people with less tolerance for pain. And, we have all had experiences where we looked at something and did not see it.
How Can This Information Help Our Tennis Game?
What can help your tennis game is to improve your rhythm and timing. When you do that ,you receive the coordination which makes your shots more accurate and your sensory gating circuits become more well tuned which provides you with improved focus and concentration.