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The Psychology of Concentration in Rock Climbing Performance

Concentration involves the skill to focus attention on the task in front of you and not be affected or disturbed by internal or external distractions. Selective attention involves being able to select to attend to specific objects or toughs and to ignore others.

What are some examples of internal/external stimuli that might impair your ability to concentrate during climbing? Examples of external distractions that can distract you include too much noise, dogs running around, weather, poor climbing conditions, or obnoxious crowds at the crag. Internal distractions are for example, negative self-talk or over-thinking about the mechanics of executing or performing.

To be successful in climbing situations you must have the ability not to react or be disturbed by distractions. Instead, you must learn how to focus attention and control thoughts. It’s about being totally in the here-and-now. The move in front of you is what should take your attention. Peak climbing performance happens when you are able to voluntarily concentrate on the cues of the environment and perceive them to demand an action within your ability to execute.

Climbing requires shifting between different types of focus. Athletes need to be able to control the width of their attentional focus as well as the direction. Using width and direction as two dimensions of concentration allows us to separate different attentional skills into one of four groups:

External, broad: this type of concentration involves assessing the environment to explore things like what kind of defense an opponent in using or how a golf hole is laid out.

Internal, broad: this type of concentration assists in analyzing the current situation and developing a game plan.

Internal, narrow: climber’s performance is improved by mentally rehearsing a specific technique or movement involved in the route you are climbing.

External, broad: To perform your best, you need an external, broad focus of  the concentration which allows you to accurately absorb what is happening in the environment and act instantly without having to think.

One very handy way to increase focus is through the use of pre-climbing routines (Visualization, deep-breathing, affirmations). These routines are common among successful athletes. You must use these techniques consistently, regardless of whether things are going well or not. Performance routines work for a number of reasons including helping athletes block out irrelevant internal and external distractions by giving you something to focus on, assisting athletes relax by providing a sense of familiarity which helps remind you this is just another shot, serve, race, etc., and finally, providing climbers with a consistent approach to their sport which, in turn, helps maximize the potential for consistent performance.

Many climbers also find the use of Attentional Cues and Triggers to be effective tools in improving their ability to concentrate. Task-related cues help you center your attention on the most appropriate focus within the movement at hand. There are a number of exercises and techniques which assist athletes in developing and refining their ability to attend and concentrate. Check out the climbing workout training guides and programs for specific details in carrying out concentration training and other performance orientated methods.