Part 1: Creating optimal physical conditions
According to Wikipedia, concentration is defined as focusing all attention on one particular activity, reaching a short-term goal, or solving an assigned problem. It is no surprise then, that concentration in chess tournaments is one of the essential keys to success.
It’s all about not getting distracted, about concentrating on the given positionings for up to six hours, about calculating, estimating, and maneuvering without straying from the subject. As this requires high intellectual effort, many players (even professionals) face problems in the persistence and continuity of keeping up concentration during such long periods of time. Even players like the grandmaster Jan Gustafsson report headaches and difficulties in concentrating after five hours.
The capability to concentrate depends on several influential factors which we will be discussing in the three parts of this month’s column: The body, the mind, and the practice.
Today, in Part 1, Chessimo will introduce you to the physical conditions that create optimal powers of concentration.
Who sticks to the following recommendations will be able to significantly improve their concentration in practice and at tournaments.
A balanced and healthy diet supports the ability to concentrate. Hereby it is important to include an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. To cover the body’s daily need, we recommend linseed oil, hempseed oil, walnut oil, and rapeseed oil for cooking. Exotic types of oil, such as chia oil, perilla oil, and sacha inchi oil contain an even larger amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish should also be a regular component of your meals: salmon, anchovy, herring, mackerel, and white tuna also contain the important fatty acids.
Evenly important is a steady supply of vitamins and nutrients, especially Vitamin B. The different types of Vitamin B are found in fish, liver products, dairy products, broccoli, spinach, and green cabbage. The Vitamin B12, by the way, cannot be found in any plant products and can only be supplied to the body through animal food products (vegetarians are advised to add nutritional supplements to their daily diet).
Another important element is a balanced blood glucose level (also known as blood sugar level). The brain is reliant on steady glucose delivery to function perfectly. Who recognizes a reduced brain performance or even suffers from shaky hands and increased perspiration, is likely to have low blood glucose level. Glucose is also referred to a dextrose and is supplied to the body by sufficient food intake. Skipping breakfast on the tournament day out of nervousness is therefore not an option. Since the blood sugar level decreases a few hours after ingestion, players should take in small snacks, such as apples or pears, during the tournament. Concentrated dextrose can also help boosting the brain performance. But as the effect diminishes quickly, it should be used only towards the end of the tournament day.
A good night sleep is essential. Tiredness limits our ability to concentrate tremendously. There is no certain answer to the question of how many hours of sleep an adult needs per night. People’s needs are as diverse as their genetic make-up. Generally, the nightly rest should last somewhere between six and eight hours. Less or more hours of sleep, can have equally negative impact on the body which is scientifically proven. One factor that is often paid too little attention to is the accordance of the sleeping and tournament rhythm.
A so-called ‘Powernap’ can also severely improve concentration during tournaments. It is a small nap during the day that lasts about 10 to 20 minutes. During this time, the cerebrum regenerates. The art is to wake up after 20 minutes, before the so-called deep sleep (REM) phase kicks in. Sleep scientists agree that such short periods of sleep improve our concentration, performance, and responsiveness (Companies like BASF, Opel, and Lufthansa even provide space and time for power-napping at the work place).
Cardio is another key element to optimal ability to concentrate. Who plays sports that require high endurance (like soccer or basketball) is already on the right track. Even better are pure endurance sports, such as hiking, walking, nordic walking, jogging, marathons, biking, ergometer training, speed skating, ice skating, swimming, cross-country, triathlons, rowing, paddling, and mountain climbing. Optimal are approximately 30 minutes per day. Who practices several of these endurance sports is recommended to be very aware of the movements and feel the body while moving. This is also not the place and time for analysis – free your mind from your thoughts and try to withdraw from the world for a while. Who is absolutely unathletic and rather avoids exercising can still make progress by juggling. It is also recommended to get up during tournaments and walk around once concentration has begun to fade.
Sufficient liquid intake is indispensable. Drinking is important before, during, and after the duel. Similar to glucose (see 1st subtopic), players are advised to forego beverages with caffeine, such as coffee, coke, and energy drinks, as the energy boost is only a short-term effect.
Read more about how to improve your ability to concentrate! In Part 2 we will focus on the mind and psyche..
written by Sarah, translated by Birthe