Blog: The bubble – leave it at your peril

Monday 11 December 2017

Jersey-based psychologist Debbie Thompson looks at the subject of concentration in sport…

Steve Smith’s recent achievement of 141 not out in the first test of the Ashes in Brisbane was reported by Michael Vaughan as follows:

“Captain Smith batted in a bubble for more than eight and a half hours.”

In Adelaide he only made 40 runs, so what was the difference? It seems that Anderson and Broad’s “chatting” distracted him.

Anyone who plays sport will have experienced lapses of concentration and focus at some point during their performance. Losing focus at that critical time can leave you feeling angry, frustrated and disappointed. You have trained for that event, made sacrifices socially and personally; you’re technically good and then at that crucial moment, you lose concentration. Maybe a noise in the crowd, a comment from other sportsmen or an unwanted thought takes you away from being the best you can be.

Distraction is really the opposite of staying focused and these lapses can come from the surrounding environment, which are known as external factors. These factors such as playing conditions or the weather can be difficult, if not impossible to control. In contrast, internal factors such as your anxieties, thoughts and how you make sense of a situation, are areas which you can do something about.

If you’re feeling emotional in some way, maybe anxious or excited by performing in a different setting, away from home and family support; you may have found that you find it harder to stay focused.

If your sport involves staying focused for extended periods of time, you may start to feel drained as the concentration and effort becomes too much and you find yourself easily distracted, by environmental factors or internal or personal thoughts.

Sometimes you might start to focus on the technical side of your performance and overthink, and suddenly skills, which seemed effortless become impossible but frustratingly, you know you can do it. This is when you focus so hard in one area of your performance, the capacity to stay in your bubble becomes too great, and you lose concentration. So simply put, you lose focus due to stress, tiredness, over thinking, or thinking about the wrong stuff! Often it is a combination of all of these factors.

Finding and staying in your bubble…

Maintaining your focus while participating in sport, is personal but here are a couple of tips:

  1. Pre performance routines can be good at reducing anxiety and help you to stay focused
  2. Using cue words; these might be to help regulate your emotions and be calming, or keep you focused and alert.

Whatever you use to develop strategies to help you stay focused, start to look at what you need to focus on and when to focus.

Debbie Thompson

MSc Sport Psychology

After originally qualifying and working as a physiotherapist, Debbie has spent the past 18 years lecturing and teaching psychology. Since 2013 she has pursued her interest and specialised in sport and exercise psychology.

Debbie has worked with the Jersey Commonwealth Games association and provided consultancy services to athletes and coaches in sports such as rugby, swimming, surfing and shooting. As a keen shooter herself, she regularly competes and has recently represented Jersey at the Island Games. She has also acted as manager for shooting at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Island Games.

She is currently completing her Professional Doctorate (PhD) in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University to gain her stage 2 qualification as a registered sport and exercise psychologist. In 2016 she graduated from the University of the West of England with an MSc (distinction) in Sports and Exercise Psychology and where she gained her stage 1 qualification.

Debbie is able to provide support with areas such as anxiety, motivation, confidence, goal setting and transition in sport. Work maybe undertaken with coaches and / or athletes to help improve sporting performance either with individuals or teams.  If you would like any further information, please contact Debbie at

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