“Swing, batter, batter, batter, batter. Swing, batter, batter. Swing, batter, batter, swing."
"Pitcher’s got a rubber arm."
That was Little League baseball trash talk back in the 1970s, usually intoned in a less than intimidating singsong voice.
Since then, distraction techniques executed by both fans and players have grown to new heights. Or, perhaps more appropriately described, trash talk has reached new lows in the age of YouTube and the quest for 15 minutes of fame.
Some of the most unique and memorable distraction methods occur when a basketball player is shooting foul shots. My earliest memories in this regard are attending high school playoff games when I was in middle school. We traveled to Reading, Pa. to watch the action on the courts in what I recall as a huge coliseum of a gym. When the players went to the foul line, the gym would slowly crescendo in a rumbling noise of feet stomping until it culminated in a deafening din of vibrating shoes on metal and wooden bleachers.
In a reverse-psychology technique, fans in the same gym would pull out the newspaper and get incredibly quiet and disinterested and hide their faces behind the paper as the players attempted to sink the free-throw.
Moving to football, in a not so long ago NFL season, poor Jessica Simpson was a victim of the nasty Dallas Cowboy fans’ anger as they perceived her as a distraction to her then quarterback boyfriend, Tony Romo. I think there was even a movement to ban her from the ballpark.
The key for the athlete is not to get distracted. To stay focused on the game. To not even notice the distraction-inducing behavior.
But how? It is one thing to tell an athlete to ignore or not be distracted by a fan’s antics, but is it something that can be taught?
Yes, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association in a December 2001 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. In the study, the test group of novice golfers that was trained to perform with distractions performed better under pressure than two other test groups who were trained without distractions.
This got me to thinking about the possibility of improving my ability to block out the distracting behavior of people in my life.
I’ve recently learned that "detachment" is the term used to describe this kind of conduct - the behavior of not letting other people’s antics be a distraction in our own lives. It is a mental assertiveness that allows us to put up and maintain boundaries, not to keep us from caring about people, but to keep us from being consumed by other people’s demands on us.
Just like the athlete can’t control the heckling fan, we can’t control the troublesome behavior of people in our lives. And, just like the athlete, we can only control how we respond.
The athlete can improve her ability to block out the distraction. We, too, can learn to block out the distraction by giving up control over it.
Did we even realize that we were changing what we do because of the distracting behavior of other people in our lives? The basketball player who does that is likely to miss the shot.
Once we stop trying to control the distracter or to react to his behavior, we control our own shots.
I’m still working on improving my shooting percentage, particularly while under distraction.
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