As a coach, I have seen many athletes struggle with many aspects it takes to reach the next level, whether it is making the junior varsity team, the varsity team, college, pros, or a sport that you just want to do for fun. In this post, we will focus on the mental side of sports and see if we can develop a better athlete.
Why do athletes lose focus during the game? Things like a missed field goal, bad pitch or throw, etc. -- is it as simple as focusing on the outcome with great excitement? Or, is it something else entirely? Effective mental focus can be learned by focusing on the right things. This way the athlete can regain their confidence without the chance of "choking". The most common type of focus is what is called process focus. By focusing on the process of your sport, you leave less room for doubts and distractions to control your mind.
First, let me explain a little more about unproductive focus before I turn to forming a more effective mental focus for your sport.
When an athlete is too concerned about adding a loss or win, or worries too much about achieving a particular score or thinks he must run a perfect race, the athlete puts negative pressures on his performance.
When the game isn’t going your way, when it looks like you cannot achieve the outcome you’ve decided you must achieve, you start to get tense, play tentatively or become afraid of making mistakes. As soon as an athlete becomes more focused on avoiding mistakes than on striving for success, his focus has become much less effective and therefore, irrelevant.
Secondly, when an unproductive focus like doubt, fear, distractions, or the worry of errors creep into your mind, it will dominate your thoughts. As soon as you say the words "can't" or "what if" or even "I can't believe I did such and such", you just allowed unproductive thoughts into your mind. To regain a better mental focus, you must remind yourself of why you are there. The answer will vary pending on what sport you are participating in. For example, a football player will say, "I am here to play a sport I love to the best of my ability." Or, a weightlifter will say, "I am here to become the strongest possible to compete at a high level." There are those who will succeed in their sport and those that will fail in their sport, but there is always a positive lesson in every failure. When you apply those lessons, you will turn your failure to successes.
Well, how do I do that? By focusing on the process. That means focusing on things that will contribute to you performing the tasks of your sport in the present moment—hitting the three-pointer, ripping the dive, throwing the pitch, sinking the putt, running the correct pass pattern.
Any thought that does not directly contribute to completing that task is unproductive, ineffective, and may undermine confidence.
To achieve effective mental focus in your sport, you must focus on the thoughts, actions, and fundamentals that are relevant to you completing the tasks of your sport. As you learn to focus on the process of your performance, you will find the end results take care of themselves. The worries and what-ifs will fade. You will play more relaxed and be more effective. Don't let the ineffective or the irrelevant thoughts creep into your mind. When you focus on the process and fundamentals, the process and fundamentals will become second nature, which will also help you gain confidence that will put more successes in your win/loss column.
A great way to help with this process is with a private coach, focusing on the process and fundamentals is part of developing the athlete. Whether you are working with me or another coach, learn to focus on the process and listen to what the coach teaches you. When you are coachable, focusing on the process and fundamentals will get easier as time goes.