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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

How Interference Affects Your Play

Bad is stronger than good...

Focus is not a new topic to this site. We have used articles from Sarah Ansboury (The Right Focus) and RV Picklers (Focus in the Immediacy), among others, to discuss the topic. This article will show a Pickleball Forum post started by pickleball's inner game expert - Matthew Blom - and the ensuing conversation he, I and others had on the topic. As you will see, it is the start of a good conversation. We will add to it over the next couple of days.

Matt posted an image of a text conversation about his thoughts on interference affect a player. The relevant part is:
Student: We are on the cusp between 3.5 and 4.0. Depending on the day. 
Matt: My hypothesis, which is what some of the inner game of Pickleball (and anything), is that we have an ability level - let's say yours is 4.0. Then you have greater or lesser amounts of "interference" that takes you down to a 3.5. Not depending on the whole "day" but on moment to moment, point to point thoughts and changes of states that affect your play.
He then asked for thoughts from the Forum. The conversation follows.

Paul Aaron: Agree. Performing at one's full potential requires 100% focus. Anything less than 100% will (obviously) negatively impact performance. Less obvious is that one's performance "ceiling" and performance "floor" are determined by ability, where ability is defined as athleticism + training + knowledge. Ability can change over time but not hour-by-hour. Therefore, hour-by-hour and minute-by minute changes in performance are dependent on focus.

Matthew Blom: I agree with what you are saying Paul. 
I wonder what your definition of focus is. 
I find that word can often be used towards tension, a efforting of sorts that to me is different than the state I believe we play our best in.

How do you think about it and/or experience it?

Paul Aaron: For me, focus is the degree to which I can block outside influences and concentrate on the immediate task at hand. Any thoughts other than the path to the ball, watching the ball to the paddle face, or picking a target (as examples) detracts from using my ability to its full potential. 

Bringing the outside world, e.g., a family spat, a scheduled business meeting, etc., to the court is one kind of distraction. Allowing the pickleball world to enter my thoughts is generally the bigger factor. Studies have shown that errors are more impactful on peoples' memories than successes. Players have to overcome the bad thoughts that can arise from a prior point or game. They simply must let the past get behind them and move on in order to concentrate on the immediate future - the next task.

I am a big believer in the next shot being the most important shot. The next shot sets up the rest of the rally. Focus on the next shot is absolutely required to succeed and to play to my potential ceiling. Lack of focus from distracted thoughts reduce the chance of success and drop my play closer to the floor set by my ability.

I sure hope that makes sense.

Matthew Blom: Really well described.

Do you find that it takes effort, or is relaxing?

Paul Aaron: Interesting question. I will have to give a multi-part answer.

People often refer to being "in the zone" when they play well, i.e., to the best of their ability. When I am "in the zone", I feel no stress. I feel fully immersed in the moment. I see the ball perfectly. I know exactly what I want to do with it. And I am confident that I can execute. Nothing in the world intrudes on my thoughts. I am totally relaxed.

But it can take effort - sometimes lots of effort - to both get into that state and then to stay there. It depends on experience and discipline.

For me, the effort to get focused is somewhat dependent on the stakes. It is easy to get focused for a tournament game. It is hard to get focused for open play with beginners. There is a scale of effort between those extremes.

But that is me. I might differ from many pickleball players in that I have a competitive sports background. I learned to shut out distractions a long time ago. Others without that experience have a harder time dealing with anxiety when focus is needed. Nerves are a major distraction and take lots of effort to break through.

One of the most important points - from my perspective - is that peak focus is hard to maintain. I cannot tell you how many games I have seen where one team got a big lead only to lose. Nothing about the relative abilities of the 4 players changed. It has to relate to focus. The team with the lead either lost focus or the trailing team gained focus, or some combination occurred. To me, that is the single best indicator of variations in focus...and how hard it is to maintain peak focus.

Even harder is to maintain peak focus over a tournament day with long breaks between games. Those situations are where discipline enters the discussion. Discipline simply means knowing when to leave the zone and how to return to it. This is a learned behavior that top athletes have mastered. It is the rare person who can stay at or near peak focus over an extended period. Disciplined players find it easy to return to the zone. Less disciplined players find it takes more effort.

Matthew Blom: This would make for a really great interview. 
It is something I've also studied and experienced, and have more to say than I care to write on Facebook about it. 

I'm quite interested in your sports experience.

Paul Aaron: I would like to hear your views someday when our paths cross again (we met in Asheville last year). I have some other background stuff that would help provide some context to my prior posts. I'll save those for later discussion.

Marian Pasela: I try to stay engaged for the entire rally. Similar to focused, but engaged (to me) has a broader range. If I'm engaged, I'm truly paying attention, and that often leads to seeing the ball well, being ready for the next shot, seeing openings on the opponent's court, anticipating better.

Matthew Blom: I like the feel of engaged. 
It's the beauty of a sport like Pickleball is that it's fun, forced engagement.


More on this on Friday.

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