The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Seeing it as BIG as a Football!

Advertisers often make creative use of imagery to get the points across about their products. Currently there is one where two guys are playing table tennis with giant bats, and there are a group of men playing golf and one either a) uses a giant club so he cannot miss and also hit his drive a long way or b) the hole on the putting green is enormous so, again, he cannot miss.

This brings to mind one of those well-known metaphorical phrases in cricket when the batsman says, “I was seeing it as big as a football.” Of course what he means is that his perception of it (the ball) is so altered that it appears larger than life and that he cannot fail to hit it. There is also a pre-supposition here that every shot is played with optimum precision and requisite power. In other words, when he’s seeing it as big as a football everything flows in an ideal way – and he is invincible; he is in The Zone.
Needless to say this is purely a metaphor regarding seeing the ball – focus – extra awareness as the ball looms large in his visual field. It pays no attention to the actual quality of whatever shot is played per se, as anyone who has ever hit a football with a cricket bat surely knows.

Watch The Ball!
I’ve written on many occasions about the level of focussed attention players bring to the area of the visual field in their particular sports. I’ve always held the view that whether striking an object, catching an object, and aiming or throwing at a target, there is always the need for the best quality of visual data gathering for the player to achieve optimal execution of the task.
I also believe that the visual focus is very much enhanced by turning down the attention input of data gathered from other senses, and also by players muting or silencing their internal dialogue. Without distrative ‘interference’ a player perceives a clearer vision and a better awareness.

I ran an experiment a few years ago, with players each throwing a ball at a target with their eyes shut, after first committing the target to visual memory, and then visualising hitting the target with their throw.
Now here you might consider – on the face of it – that I was perhaps looking to debunk my own quality data theory, in the moment!
“Eyes shut eh, Pete – so where’s the data then?”  – I can hear you ask.

The thing is – with visualisation we can make the data whatever we want, and we can make the volume of data contain much more than just visual information too!
(Check with yourself by thinking of a lemon; describe the lemon; imagine you have cut it in half with a knife and describe that; now imagine you’ve put one of the halves in your mouth, and describe that. Loads of data – yes? Is it real data? Although that’s for you to decide – it is as real as you have made it up, of course!)
Now, part of my ‘blind throwers’ visualisation exercise involved making the target physically bigger, or perhaps bringing it nearer, so that hitting it (in imagination) would become very much easier. This is akin to those advertisers’ video clips from the golf course.
Memorised spatial co-ordinates of targets can be easily manipulated with visualisation.
Make it bigger – brighter – bolder!
The players imagined throwing a ball at the target – and they were also asked to notice, to feel, the movements of their bodies as they threw. What they felt as kinaesthetic feedback from the visualisation was also important data.

The rest involved the process of committing the visualisation to short term memory. Within that commitment there is no auditory data or – interestingly – any internal dialogue or self talk.
Incidentally, one other ‘angle’ about the Eyes-Shut throwing at targets experiment – what also lies behind it – is that the players’ assembly and delivery of good technical skills, beyond conscious attention and interference, was of a remarkably high quality. But I digress!

Gathering Data
Now, in terms of conscious – and eyes open - visual data gathering by players, I’ve always been at pains to point out certain enhancements that they can bring to this focussing process. It isn’t so much about what they are watching, but is more about how they are watching and for how long.
For instance, with an approaching ball in flight which they are judging when and how to strike or catch, it is vital they watch the ball ALL THE WAY to the moment of striking or catching. The last couple of metres are crucial, and yet most of us commit this bit to guesswork!
If we compare this bit of concentration technique with seeing it as big as a football, my next questions are, “How are you seeing that football? Does it grow in perceived size as it gets nearer, or is it just big all through the flight path? And is there anything else about that football?”

Delving behind the football metaphor really then starts to open up the HOW of watching the ball, or the target, or indeed anything upon which our attentive focus is laid.

Broadening our Focus
My friend James Tripp has recently introduced me to the book “The Open Focus Brain” by Dr Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins. It was whilst reading this fascinating study on the nature of narrow focussed attention and Open-Focussed attention, a number of connective light bulbs went on for me.

I have always approached my coaching of players from the perspective of watching the target – whether that is a ball, shuttlecock, goal, stumps, hole, pocket, dart board, hoop, jaw, or whatever. It has always been either by taking dead-aim, or closely watching.
It might also be said that closely watching an approaching ball (say) is the same as taking dead-aim at a moving target.

As part of our decision-making process, of making a judgement, I mention that we need to examine the desired or optimal flight path of the projectile we are throwing, hitting, kicking, catching etc. However, although I often talk about the attributes of the medium between the player and the target when doing visualisation, I hardly ever mention it when dealing with a “real” live situation.
Now I don’t mean here what is particularly going on with atmospheric conditions such as wind and humidity, the height above sea level, etc., or the physical attributes (spin, rotation etc) of the projectile as it travels through the atmosphere – important as  these all might be when factored into the decision-making process!
I am talking with particular regard to the spatial dimensions of the medium, our perceptions of those dimensions, AND (now I have read Les Fehmi’s work) how we can alter the nature of our perceptions through the type of focus we are applying at any one time.

Part of the process of Proof Reading involves changing our focus. We require our R.A.S (reticular activating system; the brain’s perceptive filter) to shift focus from the inherent meaning of the text to typographical correctness, or to syntax, etc.

Years ago I bought and sold second hand LPs and the price I would charge was dependent upon the condition of the disc itself – scratches and other wear being part of the consideration. I needed therefore to grade the ‘playing’ condition of the discs I bought in, rather than the musical content or recording quality. This involved the Proof Listening of all incoming discs.
Wine tasters actually go through a process of Proof Tasting – where the process of drinking wine changes focus in a sampling way. Tasters who fail to properly step into the ‘Proof Frame’ and all that entails, tend to end up regularly inebriated!

All these proofing functions involve directing the R.A.S and the best proofers become really adept at changing the nature of their particular focus, from moment to moment. Proof readers switch off the internal voice that tends to accompany most of us when we are just reading. My proof listening meant I wasn’t listening to music, but only sound. And wine tasters never (or shouldn’t) swallow!

Now I’d like to draw Proofing, in the sense I’ve just described, into the context of the way we need to focus in whatever sport we are playing, and whatever varying actions and processes we are performing within that sport. The reason being this:–
We all tend to focus and concentrate primarily in the visual field. Paying attention in this field is about noticing as much as we can in a narrow focus perspective. I believe that when we set out to try and up the ante, concentrate better, or focus more, that we are – as a rule – not pointing ourselves in the right direction. The way we usually set out to do the process continues to be from a conscious, narrow-focussed perspective – where “Pay more attention,” simply gets translated as do more detailed data gathering.

However, if we were to take the instruction as being “Pay attention in a different way,” – as all Proofers do - then we’ll notice a lot of different things and, as a result, gather more data! Logical, isn’t it!
Plus - something else interesting will be going on for us – we will have stopped trying. And, amazingly, one of the by-products of stopping our trying will be a reduction of tension, a relaxing, a feeling of being more grounded, a more stable equilibrium between unconscious skills and conscious decision making.

So what brings about someone’s occasional capability to see the ball as big as a football? It might seem they have just casually stumbled across some magical facility or attribute – but there are a number of factors that have come into conjunction or alignment for that person to have such an experience.

Rather like eclipses take place when celestial bodies come into alignment, the big football effect results from another kind of alignment, a perceptual alignment.
The difference is - in the moment, eclipses diminish the light around us, whereas with our perceptions aligned the lights get very much brighter, everything seems to be in HD – or what we might even call 3D+.
The aligning factors, I believe, are these:-
·         A predisposed or arrived at state of emotional equilibrium
·         A change in the nature of our focus
·         Brainwaves associated with our various processes are ‘in sync’ at lower frequencies

In my opinion there is a clear connection between all these factors; a connection that is an essential part of all Mind-Body Links not just within sport, but also in our daily lives.
In The Open Focus Brain, Dr Fehmi examines the connective link between brainwave frequencies and the nature of our focus. In Mind How You Play I examine the connective link between emotional equilibrium and thought.

“So, if I want to see it as big as a football every time, Pete, what do I need to do to improve the odds of it happening?”
This might well be your next question!

Your emotional equilibrium, and the nature of your focus, will certainly be reflected in the frequency of your brainwaves. Your performance, the balance of your skills, decision making and tactics, will be better enabled by all three.
Certainly, without emotional equilibrium the odds will be considerably lengthened. You may have struck a run of good form, but form is elusive at best without emotional equilibrium.

You can also tinker and experiment with brainwave entrainment, but our brainwaves are actually a reflection of what is happening and what has already happened for us on the inside – so we can only go there in a proactive sense by using a “vehicle” that facilitates brainwave changes. Trying to change the speed of your car by moving the needle on the speedometer won’t work, whereas the brakes and accelerator are what facilitate speed changes. Interestingly there are a whole range of things available to us to brake or accelerate brainwave activity – many of which fall under the banner of thought! And with thought, we get back to equilibrium.

But, my friend, since we are just talking here about the seeing of the metaphorical football, then changing the nature of your focus is a very good way of narrowing the odds.

I’ve talked many times about the importance of The Breath in the performance of our lives – and how we can unlearn the bad breathing habits we have become very familiar with as we have grown up. Good breathing, habitually breathing well, gives us many wellbeing benefits including a number already mentioned in this article!
Similarly with our Focus, we can unlearn the perpetual gravitation towards running our lives in the one-track habit of narrow focus. Once we broaden our perspective on everything, things begin to shift on many levels both on the outside AND on the inside. There are times when a narrow focus is totally appropriate of course, but running a broader and more open focus as a default setting is certainly going to enhance the wellbeing our lives.

Essentially, with a broader focus you will EXPERIENCE MORE and BOTHER LESS. Now I’m not talking about care here when I use the word bother. Broad focussed people can care about something or someone as well as the next person – however, they don’t get drawn into wasting their attention on everything under their microscope.

So – big as a football experiences in our sport are going to happen more regularly for the open-focussed folk amongst us. If you take to the field of play (and practice) in a perpetually wound-up state, then it will never happen for you. If you want something better in any part of your life then you have to change the way you’ve been doing it up to now.

Focus your eyes at infinity
Have you ever laid on your back and stared up at the sky, looking way beyond the clouds. That’s rather like focussing at infinity. What do you notice happened when you did that? Did you find your eyes blinking more, less or the same? Did you find the 4th or 5th blinks being much longer – and was it hard to keep your eyes open after blink number 4-5? Did you find as your eyes stayed closed that your breathing got deeper, your thoughts seemed to ‘slow down’, your attention seemed to float, and your neck and shoulders relaxed and became warmer.
And when you opened your eyes again, still looking skywards, did you get an embodied feeling that things felt different, somehow – and yet you couldn’t exactly pinpoint any particular difference?

Have you ever looked up at the sky on a starry night? Did you notice what happened when you tried to focus on a particular star – how it seemed to grow dimmer, and yet all the ones round about it seemed to become much clearer.
Curiously, if you pointed a telescope at that same star, this effect wouldn’t happen. It is only in our perceptions, however, where these differences seem to take place.

Part of Dr Fehmi’s approach to opening the focus is to engage the imagination in terms of how we perceive the geography of the inner spaces of our bodies.
Apropos of this, a while ago I can remember reading about an interesting study involving the following graphic representation:-

It involved a person visualising a whiteboard, onto which they were to draw first a circle, and then inside the circle draw a square; then inside the square to draw a triangle; then inside the triangle to draw an X.
Next they were to visualise putting down the marker and then taking up an eraser. With the eraser they were to first remove the X; and next the triangle; and next the square; then finally the circle.

Finally they were to put down the eraser and visualise the empty space on the whiteboard.
I have shown people this visualisation process to help them with insomnia, or to reduce their internal dialogue to a degree so that their mind is “disengaged” from thought processing.
It is a clear example of changing and broadening focus, and certainly the effects, for those I’ve told about it, are most beneficial.
There are some enhancements I’ve used with it also.
Allow your eyes to follow each drawing sequence in ‘forward and reverse’ modes. So with the circle, for instance, allow your eyes to rotate clockwise for 360° and then anticlockwise back to the start. You can repeat if you wish. Do this for each element in the graphic.
You can do this with eyes open or closed, and remember to focus at infinity after you have completed the erasure sequence.


I can thoroughly recommend the book, The Open Focus Brain by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins. There are some downloadable audio files of guided exercises you can undertake, and these are also within the text of the book. 
I also suggest you see what differences you notice when you use the graphic in the way I have described. Give yourself about a week of twice daily use to allow changes to start to integrate, and just notice what is becoming different for you.

And if you should see it as big as a football, then hit, catch or kick that football and remember exactly what there is about it that made you want to continue to make changes in your sport and your life.


This article is one of a trio of articles concerning the elements described in the paragraph headed Alignment.

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