Why can’t I just focus?

Achieve Better Focus Through Applied Sports Psychology

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ALL TOO FAMILIAR SITUATIONS

Are any of these situations familiar to you?

  • You typically perform better in practice than in competition.
  • You have difficulty handling pressure.
  • If you get frustrated, your self-confidence suffers.
  • You’ve been working hard to develop your skills, but it doesn’t seem to show.

We all know that the mental part of our game is important; coaches and athletes usually tell me about 75 percent of their game is mental. Yet, when they run into problems like the ones I just mentioned, they’re often incapable of solving them. Mental skills training, or “mind practice,” is a woefully underutilized component of athletic performance.

As an athlete, you carry far more on your shoulders than the outcome of a drill or the score of a single game. An athlete needs to expand their knowledge of the game, track their statistics, develop their fitness outside of practice, set long-term goals, manage stress on and off the field— and simultaneously perform at the highest level possible. And those are really only a few examples of all that an athlete must constantly hold in their mind.

 

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UNDER PRESSURE

It’s the nature of competitive sports to put yourself in high pressure situations. With all of these expectations and information rattling around in your head, it’s not unusual for the stress of competing to overwhelm your thought process. This kind of amorphous pressure is almost always the source of problems like low confidence, anxiety, and practice-performance gaps; yet for many athletes, all the mental skills advice they ever receive is along the lines of “just do this.” Just focus. Just work harder! Just don’t worry so much. Just be confident.

This is incredibly frustrating for many athletes. While they may be able to fix a mistake in their skill set in a few weeks of practice, problems like low confidence will go unaddressed in an athlete for years. Sure, mental skills training is great and all, but few athletes or coaches actually know how to do it. How are you supposed to implement an idea?

Mental skills can feel like abstract concepts more than quantifiable skills. An athlete will end up constantly berating themselves to focus, practically shouting inside their heads, so their frustration inevitably makes the situation worse. Some athletes won’t ever talk to anyone about their emotions surrounding a game. Many coaches and athletes have been told, or believe, that mental toughness is a personality trait— you’ve got it, or you don’t— that it can’t be learned. And even if you ask your coach for help, they might not know what to do.

 

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TRAIN YOUR BRAIN

The reality is that mental skills can be learned just like any other physical skill on the field. Managing your thoughts is a skill set like any other, one that requires regular practice and management for improvement. It’s different from physical training, however, in that no one else can see what you’re thinking. Becoming mentally tough requires you to pay attention to your thoughts-- something that’s easier said than done, as a lot of our thoughts are habitual or automatic. But you’re the only one able to observe your thinking and fixing your behavior.

Once you start to pay attention to what you’re thinking, how can you begin to control the ever-changing tangle that is your thought process?

That is where a mental skills coach comes in. Over the next series of articles, I will break down different mental skills into simple, understandable concepts. Just like a coach explaining drills, I’ll provide different strategies and techniques for training your mind. When you practice your mental skills as you practice your physical skills, you’ll be able to take your performance to the next level and have a lot more fun.

A whole world opens up to an athlete when they’re confident in their ability to handle pressure, manage mistakes, or minimize distractions. A mental skills coach will help you eliminate the fear from competition, providing the missing piece in your training that will last a lifetime.

 
 

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