This is probably the most common question that I get asked by athletes across every sport. “In practice, I’m relaxed, focused and everything seems to just come easily. However, in games, I start getting flooded with negativity and doubts, I tighten up, everything seems so rushed and I can’t get my body to do what it knows how to do!” “So what gives?”
The main reason this happens to athletes is because of the differences in their concentration between practice, when it is perceived to “not count,” and games, when now the athlete tells him/herself “it really counts!”
When you perform to your potential, this is most often a result of you focusing on what is important. What is ALWAYS important is the ACTION that you’re involved in in this moment. Usually this means that your concentration is on SEEING what is in front of you and JUST REACTING to it. This NEVER involves THINKING! For the athlete who does so much better in practice, this is exactly what they are doing. They are NOT worried about messing up or the outcome of the performance. They are simply focused in on what they are DOING, and nothing else.
Important point: When you focus on what’s important, you stay loose and relaxed, and this is the key to peak performance!
This mental approach completely changes when this same athlete goes into an important competition. They now focus on outcome, worry about what others will think if they do badly, worry about making mistakes or disappointing others, and in general, OVER-THINK EVERYTHING! When you are in a performance situation and over think, you end up totally distracting yourself from the important performance cues that happen in the moment by moment flow of the action. Furthermore, it’s this focus on all of the wrong things that generates the excessive nervousness and physical tightness that will always undermine your ability to perform at your best!
Solution: Learn to become aware of where your focus is right before and during your BEST and WORST performances. This awareness will then put you in a situation to be able to self-correct if you start making concentration mistakes as you go into an important competition. That is, if you’re aware you’re focusing on the wrong things, then you are now in a position to “bring yourself back” to what’s important!