Your ability to focus on what’s important and let go of everything else is absolutely essential to reaching your potential as an athlete. If you concentrate on the wrong things at the wrong time, you’ll never perform to your true potential!
Concentration is one of the KEY mental skills responsible for athletic excellence. A mentally tough athlete knows how to concentrate and can do it under pressure. More “mentally vulnerable” athletes are those who can’t control their focus of concentration when it counts and get distracted by the “sound” of the lights shining. Show me an athlete who chokes or is easily intimidated or psyched out and I’ll show you someone whose focus of concentration DIRECTLY causes these problems!
If you spend time focusing on your competition and how talented they are, or on the outcome, then this faulty focus of concentration will psych you out! Like every other skill area, championship concentration can be learned and fine tuned with sufficient practice.
Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever is a great example of an athlete who has mastered the act of concentrating on his own performance regardless of the pressure.
Here are three exercises you can employ to develop winning concentration. For each exercise, begin by sitting comfortably in a place that’s free from distractions. After gaining proficiency in your ability to concentrate, you can progressively add distractions. Allow 5 minutes for each exercise unless otherwise indicated.
Exercise #1: Object Stare
Place a medal, trophy, ball or any other object from your sport directly in front of you, pick a specific spot on the object and then in a relaxed manner, focus your attention on that spot. Study it carefully. As you keep your eyes on that spot, slowly repeat to yourself a word or phrase. That word or phrase will be your “concentration cue,” or reminder. For example, you can use the words “gold,” “now,” or “smooth.” Quickly bring your focus back to your spot each and every time that you find yourself drifting. Next, close your eyes and try to get a visual image of the object and your spot. Continue to repeat your concentration cue to yourself as you do this. Finally, pick the medal or object up and study it with your hands. Feel the texture of the surfaces, the corners and points, the temperature of it, the feel of raised writing if any, etc., and as you do this continue to repeat that cue to yourself. Repeat this sequence (looking, imaging and feeling) for 5 minutes.
Exercise #2: Blocking Distraction
Sit up close to your TV screen with the set on and no volume. Hold your thumb out against the screen and focus only on the center of your thumbnail for about 10 seconds. When you can do this without being distracted by the pictures, increase your time up to 20 seconds. When you can go a whole minute, turn the volume up and try to focus only on your thumb for 10 seconds without being distracted by the sound or pictures. Continue to increase your time until you can go 1-2 minutes without losing your focus.
Exercise #3: Bring Yourself Back
This is the heart of concentration! Focus your attention on your breathing as you inhale. With each exhalation switch your focus to the number “1” (you can repeat the sound to yourself or “see” a number 1 in your mind’s eye.) Inhale, focus on your breathing; exhale, focus on number 1. When you first find your mind distracted or wandering, gently return to your focus in the following way: Concentrate on the feeling of the inhale. As you exhale focus now on the number “2”. With each distraction, recognize that you are drifting, bring yourself back and increase the number you focus on by one.
If you treat your concentration like a muscle and WORK to develop it, you will discover great results. Remember to always focus on yourself. To perform your best when it counts, you must stay focused on YOUR game/match/race!