WHEN OUR FOCUS SHIFTS...

I’m at training. Before the next exercise, I quickly get out my phone – well, it's been lying next to me while training anyway – and I have a look at it. What's going on in the world? I quickly take a photo which I'll post on Instagram, well, a second one...The first one didn't turn out well enough. Quickly reply to my best friend's WhatsApp message. Then back to the next exercise.

I have a meeting with an athlete. The last thing I do before the session, I check my phone. Did I get a message? What's happening? Maybe I have one more minute to scroll through the latest Insta feed or watch some stories. 

Who of you feels addressed reading these scenarios? Has this happened to you, too? How do you deal with social media and constantly being on your phone, constantly being reachable, and also constantly reaching yourself out to see what's happening in the world and with others?

What happens to us in such moments, is that we lose our focus. Even if it's just for a few seconds, maybe minutes. Our concentration and full focus on training fade. However, most of the time this doesn't only happen once during training. According to studies, we spend a third (!) of our day on our phone, we touch it 2.617 times per day. There are no studies about how often we exactly use our phones during training – but maybe you can answer this question yourself? How often do you consciously or unconsciously reach for your phone? How often do you let ourselves be distracted?

Being focussed on one thing for a long period of time and not being distracted is hard. Particularly in times, when it's so easy to be distracted. Our attention though is a limited resource. We are not able to do two exercises which both require focus at the same time. This means we have to skip back and forth from one task to the next. This back- and forth-skipping creates "time holes" which leads to a lower quality of our activities, such as our training, or movements. Our brain obviously reacts to this constant overstimulation. Or better than overstimulation, let’s call it what it is: multi-tasking. Our prefrontal cortex shows increased activity. That’s the part of our brain which is responsible for complex problem-solving, making decisions, thinking clearly, staying cool in pressuring situations. Does this ring a bell for you?

Climbing naturally is a highly complex sport that requires a lot of attention – particularly when doing highly coordinative moves, slabs where you have to be highly focused and trust all holds and footholds, or when doing any other moves. So when we quickly move from one task to the next one, our prefrontal cortex is overstimulated, which, in turn, affects our neuronal activity. Our range of focus significantly decreases, we revert to reflexive behaviours and, as said, the quality of our actions and movements suffer. Moreover, our body reacts by an increased release of the stress hormone cortisol which is responsible for degenerative processes in our brain. There’s (yet) no science about climbing that explicitly talks about the effects of multi-tasking, phone usage, and social media addiction on climbing, but looking at the general evidence of the neurological effects, it surely has to have its effects on our climbing performance, too.

Obviously, as always, it depends on how much and how often we are multi-tasking, how often we e.g. use our phone while doing something else. This is a question we have to ask and answer for ourselves – and also, where we have to be honest with ourselves.

As a coach, knowing your athletes really well, you can think of whether it would make sense to start leaving phones behind while training to increase the focus or limited use. 

What experiences have you made in training or competitions?

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