“Focus on YOU For Peak Performance”
If concentration and mindfulness are the keys to performance excellence, then mistakes in concentration are the primary reason that athletes struggle performance-wise. Choking, slumps, performance problems, fears and lack of self-confidence can all be traced to the athlete’s mental mistakes in focusing. If you want to develop mental toughness and start performing more to your potential, then you have to begin to learn how to better control your focus of concentration. In particular, you had better learn how to keep your concentration squarely focused on YOU and what you’re doing. Let me explain.
Every athlete has had the experience of getting psyched out or intimidated before or during competition. You know the story. You’re feeling good about yourself and your game until you catch a glimpse of the opponent. Maybe they’re bigger, faster, stronger, better, smarter, etc. than you. Perhaps they have great looking uniforms, an awe inspiring stadium, what appears to be a more organized warm-up than you. Maybe they have the very latest in equipment. Whatever it is about them that you think gives them the competitive edge over you, the sight of this opponent begins to strike terror into your little heart. You start to break out into a cold sweat. Your confidence drains suddenly to empty. Your knees turn into Jell- O and your arms and legs feel like lead. You just can’t seem to stop focusing on them!!!!! You’re like a deer in headlights. Oh boy are you ever in trouble!
Have you noticed that after spending all this energy on your opponent, your performance tends to go down the drain? That’s because 95 out of 100 athletes get knocked off center by focusing too much on their opponents. It is the MAJOR cause of psych-outs and intimidation. If you’re in that top 5% and you always do better by concentrating on the opposition, then keep doing it. For the rest of you, listen up! Why, on earth would any athlete in their right mind concentrate on something that makes them nervous, kills their confidence and destroys their game? Exactly! Nobody should ever do that.
One key job an athlete must do in order to succeed is to “stay inside herself” when she performs. Focus on YOU and the strengths YOU bring to the field. Not the other guy.That means YOU need to go out there and do what YOU do best. You need to stick to basics and “play your own game”, “run your own race”, “Skate your own program”, etc.
So if you get too caught up in how skilled and wonderful you imagine your opponent to be, there is a tendency to begin to step outside yourself and try too hard. And your attention is now directed to variables that are out of your control.
That internal thinking goes like this: “She’s so good that I have to do something extraordinary just to be able to stay in the game with her.” The minute you start “bearing down”, trying too hard, and focusing on meeting her on her level you are sunk! As an athlete your major concentration job is to stay focused on what YOU are doing. Concentrate on the two or three technical strengths that make you effective. Focus on a couple of position/event specific tactical cues that help you be impactful for your team. You need to block out your opponent and everything about them unless there are some strategic things that are USEFUL to consider and that will ultimately HELP your performance. What this really means is that you should not get caught up comparing yourself with the opponent, unless you’d like to feel lousy about yourself.
Remember, the competition is inside of you. Your toughest opponent isn’t out there! He/she is inside. Your goal is to lay down a performance on any given day that is YOUR best on that day. Go look in the mirror and you’ll see who the real opponent is. When you focus on how strong or talented the opposing team is, they don’t end up beating you. You end up beating yourself!
So practice focusing on YOU. When your concentration starts to wander to your opponent, quickly and gently bring your focus back to you and what you are doing at that moment. Say to yourself. “What’s Important Now”? EVERY TIME you find your focus leaving the variables you can control and heading over to your opponent or even a teammate who you’re competitive with, immediately bring yourself back and ask yourself “What’s Important Now”? This simple phrase will help get you back on track to variables you can control.
Be patient here. If you drift a lot, no problem! BRING YOURSELF BACK A LOT! A break in concentration won’t psych you out or ruin your game. What will wreck your confidence and tighten you up is a break in concentration that you don’t catch! Begin today to strengthen your ability to stay focused on yourself.
To get started immediately on improving your focusing ability practice attuning yourself to your breath. Using your breath as a focusing tool is great because you have it with you at all times. So sit or stand comfortably.Inhale through your nose to a slow count of 4. Focus on just your breath. Now exhale to a count of four. Relax your shoulders at the conclusion of your exhale. When your mind drifts, and it sure will, quickly bring yourself back to your next breath. Try doing this for 3-4 minutes a day and you’ll further develop your ability to “stay inside yourself.”
Best of luck and remember to focus on YOU for peak performance.
Derrek Falor. M.Ed.
Derrek has coached college soccer for the past 20 years, has a USSF A License, is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, is undergoing professional certification through AASP, and has a Master’s Degree in sport psychology.
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