How to Recognize the Uncontrollables and Stay Focused on What Matters Most

How to Recognize the Uncontrollables and Stay Focused on What Matters Most

When you go into a game focusing on one or more UC’s or “uncontrollables” three things will always happen to you. First, you will begin to get nervous and physically tense. Second, you will lose your self-confidence. Third, and as a direct result of these first two, your performance will quickly “head south,” down the proverbial tubes.

An uncontrollable is any factor before or during your game that is directly out of your control.

Uncontrollables are mental traps. They are lying in wait for you and every other athlete at that game. The bigger the game, the more likelihood there’ll be that you will fall into them. How do you avoid a trap? YOU HAVE TO SEE IT! YOU HAVE TO KNOW IT’S THERE! You have to know what the uncontrollables are and especially the ones that have gotten to you in the past.

Here is an exercise I highly recommend that you do:

Below is a list of some typical uncontrollables. Go through the list and put an asterisk next to each UC that has gotten to you in previous pressured situations. When you’re finished, take a piece of paper and list all the UC’s that you starred. Next, take this list and post it in a highly visible place in your room. Why would you want to do that? Isn’t that sort of negative? If the uncontrollables are mental traps and the only way to AVOID a trap is to be able to SEE it ahead of time, then having such a list will keep you exquisitely aware of what you should stay away from, concentration-wise.

The UC’s:

  • How big the game/tryout is
  • Your teammates performances
  • Your opponent – his/her size, strength, talent, reputation, aggressiveness, etc.
  • When your opponent plays head games or talks trash
  • The officiating
  • Weather, temperature (hot/cold), wind, rain, snow, etc.
  • The field conditions
  • Luck – either good or bad
  • Your coach and decisions he makes about the lineup and playing time
  • How much time is left in the game
  • How you feel that day (both physically and emotionally, i.e. sickness, fatigue, injury, etc.)
  • The kind of warm-up you had
  • Other people’s expectations of you (what they will think about you)
  • Who’s watching the game (scouts in the stands)
  • Anything related to the FUTURE and outcome like winning, scoring, etc.
  • Anything in the PAST (mistake, last game, missed opportunity, etc.)
  • The unexpected (game delays, etc).
  • Academic/personal stuff outside of your sport
  • Injuries that occur during the game

Keep in mind that focusing on an uncontrollable by itself won’t get you into trouble. What WILL get you into performance hot water is focusing on an uncontrollable and NOT immediately returning your concentration to those things that you CAN control! It is perfectly natural to get periodically knocked off balance by the UC’s. When this happens be sure that you:



What matters is the feel of what you're doing, your attention on the ball, your teammates, your breathing, your pace, your tactical response to what is in front of you, your reaction to the action and anything else that keeps you grounded in the present moment, as free from “thinking” about anything as possible.

Remember, the one thing that you can always learn to control is how YOU CHOOSE to react to all of these uncontrollables.