15 Steps to Mental Strength in Sports – Step 10: Developing Winning Concentration
Step 10 – Developing Winning Concentration For Peak Performance
Last week I talked about the trouble slumps and obstacles can present in reaching peak athletic performance. Today I’ll go over some specific mental strength tips to help you develop winning concentration to overcome these.
Whether during practice or competition you’re going to be faced with distractions. These distractions will be different and have a different affect on your performance. The important thing to remember is that during your physical practice is the time to for your mental practices as well.
You don’t want to wait till you’re in the heat of competition to try to figure out how to concentrate or refocus.
If there is nothing else you get from this post, remember that concentration is the key to mental strength and peak athletic performance. You cannot perform your best unless you have rock solid concentration.
So…What is concentration?
Here’s the thing about concentration, when you’re doing it well you don’t know you’re doing it.
Concentration is focusing on what’s important and blocking out everything else. The word here is ‘important.”
When you are concentrating on the things that are important, everything else fades away and you enter “the zone.”
All athletes are great at concentrating, yup, you heard me correctly. The trouble is those athletes that struggle do a great job of concentrating on all the wrong things.
You mind can only hold one thought at a time so you can only concentrate on one thing well! You better make damm sure that one thing is important!
Do you know what that one thing is you need to focus on during practices and/or competition?
If you’re not aware of where of what that thing is, you will struggle and not achieve peak performance.
Let me repeat this…if you don’t know were to put your focus you can’t reach peak performance.
Awareness is essential in concentration. You have to know when you’re focusing too much on the wrongs things, the things you can’t control.
Up to this point I’ve told you ‘what’ to do, not how to do it. I’ve gone over some things that are interesting but haven’t given you any solutions to develop your mental strength for improved concentration.
So let’s now take a look at the “how to.”
Before I begin, let me ask you. What happens to your focus during a boring show, book, and practice? You drift off right? This is normal; we all drift off at one time or another.
And the way you learn to concentrate is to bring yourself back when you catch yourself NOT concentrating.
I know, you’re probably thinking Uh???
Hang in there…I’ll pull this all together.
So, to develop concentration there are two steps:
Step 1: Is to realize the instant you lose your focus and start to drift off.
Step 2: Is quickly and gently return your focus to what’s important.
You train yourself to concentrate by being aware when you’re not concentrating and then bring yourself back.
We all know there’s nothing complicated about messing up. Here’s the secret though, it’s not a break in concentration that causes slumps and poor performance, it’s not catching yourself drifting and gently bring yourself back to what’s important that cause all the damage.
What are some of the wrong things?
- Focus on winning
- Focus on the opponent
- Past poor performances
- Error you committed
- The college scout in the stand
- What people will think
- I’m too tired
So, what do I mean by gently bring yourself back? You bring yourself back without any judgment or negative self-talk …your job is to simply come back to what’s important.
There will be days when you don’t lose concentration that much and there will be others where you’ll drift a lot. It doesn’t matter, you must be persistent and consistent on all days in bring yourself back.
Here’s a training exercise that will help you improve the mental strength skill of concentration.
Take a ball, trophy or other object from your sport, place it eye level on something about 2-3 feet in front of you. Then find a spot on it to rest your eyes comfortably on. Your eyes should remain on this sport throughout the entire exercise.
Concentration is “passive”, you just let it happen. It is not intense or forced stare.
After you found the point to focus on, put your attention on you breathing. Inhale through your nose for a count of 5 and feel your diaphragm fill up with air. Exhale though your nose to a count of 7 and feel your diaphragm deflate. As you do this, while concentrating on the spot on the object, think of a word and repeat it to yourself. This will be your anchor or concentration cue.
You choose the word that has personal meaning; this will be your anchor word.
Again, inhale, feel your diaphragm fill-up, exhale repeating the word and feeling your diaphragm deflate. Keep the breathing easy, steady effortless.
If you’re normal you’ll get bored and soon start to drift, that’s OK, just bring your focus back to the object and your attention to your breathing repeating your anchor word.
Do this 3 -4 times a day for a few minutes each time. Smaller frequent rounds are better than fewer, longer rounds. You can also start to include this in your practice and training.
When you can successful concentrate without losing focus for 5 minutes, take the object and place it on a TV. Turn the TV on, option A, have no volume: Option B have the volume on.
Sit far enough back where you can see both the object and the TV together. And now perform the same focus drill for 2 minuets.
Here and Now Rule for Peak Performance
During practice or competition you are in two “location.” You are in “time” and you are in a “place.”
Time has three times: Past, present and the future.
Past: When you’re in the past you’re thinking about (focusing on) things that have already happened, i.e. performance mistakes. Do this means you are not concentrating on what’s important and can actually kill your confidence during competition. You need to leave the past in the past and comeback. It’s OK to review past success BEFORE the event and review past poor performance during practice to find ways to improve. But during a competition you need to be present, in the now.
Present: When you’re in the now you are focusing on what’s important and you have a better chance of entering the zone and achieving peak performance.
Future: Here you’re thinking about what’s going to happen. You’re getting ahead of yourself like, “when we win”, “who do we play in the next round”, “I hope I make this catch.” When you focus on the outcome it pulls out of now.
Mental time travel equates to poor athletic performance. In order to reach your peak performance you MUST be in the now
Where’s your mind?
Is it in right place?
Is it here on what you are doing?
Or is it in the wrong place and worried about who’s in the stand watching or thinking about bad call the referee made or thinking about the opponent.
In order to achieve peak athletic performance you have to be here now!
To help you bring yourself back to the here and now you need to develop focal points. Focal points can be visual, auditory or kinesthetic.
Here are some suggested focal points before and during a competition.
Pre-Performance Focal Points
- Looking at arm or leg as you stretch
- Keeping eyes at the ground
- Looking at piece of equipment
- Reading a book
- Playing a video game
- Going into soft focus or peripheral vision
- Listening to music
- Positive conversation with coach or teammate
- Repeating affirmations
- Counting to yourself
- Listen to sound of your breathing
- Felling of breathing
- Feel of stretching
- Feel the warming up
- Pre-performance feeling rituals, i.e. feeling the ball, stick, racket, etc.
Focal Points During Performance
These are usually sports and position specific that help you performer better. These may include
- Watching the ball come into you hands
- Felling the stroke of swimming
- Sound of your feet hitting the ground during track meet
- Listening to your breathing
Concentration is the key to peak performance and when it drifts you must develop the mental strength skill to bring it back. This requires practice everyday, especially during your practice and training.
Start to develop your mental strength and concentration for peak athletic performance by picking up a copy of “Mental Strength Training for Athletes” today.
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