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Hey Coach: Focus and Refocus Strategies (Mental Preparation)

You can’t wait until things start going well during a game before you start trusting. You have to start replicating the state of mind you have when you are at your best. No matter what happens (mistakes, lose a lead, etc.), you have to strive to maintain that state of mind.

Trust and confidence is key to focus. Find a way to believe you will perform successfully, and not worry about failure. You must maintain a disciplined routine focused on the task, but not try so hard that you tighten up. Find a balance between determination and nonchalance. Find situations that you can practice this mindset. Focus for a length of time (that is similar to the skill you are working on) on a task that is difficult. Challenge yourself to do something that you can just barely do, and then learn how to focus on it until you can do it well. Then slowly expand that.

The ideal performance focus is total connection to your performance in spite of the constantly changing demands of the performance. It is important for you to discover which focus works best for you and under which specific circumstances.

To improve your focusing skills and make them more consistent, set some goals to allow your best focus to surface more regularly. Here are seven practice tips that will help.

  1. Use your imagination to feel yourself execute the delivery and make your shot; then do the skill, letting it unfold naturally, without thought. See it before you do it.
  2. When you practice curling skills, focus on being totally connected to your moves.
  3. Practice being aware of everything that is going on around you (communication), then totally connect to your target.
  4. Free yourself to execute your own moves without evaluation. Just let go and see what happens. Go by feel. Go by instinct. Free yourself to flow naturally.
  5. Create and perfect your preparation routine. This routine will condition your mind and body to know what to do. Do it over and over and over. It’s not about great performance…It’s about Great Consistent Performance!
  6. Use meaningful reminders to enter the state of mind that allows your best performance focus.
  7. Work on holding that best focus for short periods, and try to gradually increase the time you are fully connected. The ultimate goal is to be able to hold that best focus, total connection, for every shot, read, and sweep.

Refocusing Skills

  • When you are feeling stressed, try slowing everything down…. Move slowly, talk slowly, stretch slowly, breathe in a slow, deep, and relaxed way. Then when you are feeling calm, refocus on the task.
  • When you are distracted, try clearing the distractions from your mind by thinking about the little things you have to do to perform your best. Everything else is unimportant.
  • After making an error, breathe, clear your mind, and shift your focus on the next or immediate task. Get good at doing this.
  • Prepare yourself to focus in the moment – on one shot, disregarding past and future. Remind yourself to seek this connected focus every day.
  • Train your mind to notice when you lose focus. She can learn to immediately STOP and refocus. You may want to use an elastic band on your wrist and snap it every time you lose focus at an important time. Or yell “STOP” when you lose focus and then refocus.

General focusing exercises that you can try outside your performance setting.

  • When you are listening to someone speak, try to clear your mind of everything else and connect fully with what that person is saying. See how long you can hold that connected focus.
  • Practice fully focusing only on what you are doing, with other people watching or talking – for example, while you are reading, working, or performing. Relax, then focus fully.
  • Scan this page. Pick the last three words in this sentence and focus on them. Focus on these words until they stand out more than anything else on the page. Then back up your focus so that you become aware of the sentence. Now pick the word focus, and let yourself become more aware of it than others around it. Good!
  • See how it feels to focus on different kinds of thoughts or feelings. Have a run today, and as you extend your leg, think stretch or float. Do this about 10 times in a row. See what happens. Then try thinking power when your left foot hits the ground, and again when your right foot touches the ground. Do this ten times in a row. See what happens.
  • Sit quietly, relax your breathing, and focus on looking at something in front of you like a table, a pen, an insect, a flower, a painting, a piece of fruit, etc. etc. Really focus on it; look closely at its shape, texture, design, and feel; get absorbed in it.
  • Sit quietly, let yourself relax, and focus on listening to something like the birds, the wind, or other sounds that you hear around you right now. Get absorbed in on of those sounds; then let it fade away by absorbing yourself in another sound or another focus.
  • Close your eyes and focus on a specific positive thought, repeat it to yourself, then stop thinking for about five breaths, then refocus on the specific positive thought.

(Correlated & written by Derek Robinson, Chartered Psychologist)

Revised from:
Orlick, T. (2000). In pursuit of excellence. Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics.
Miller, S. L. (2001). The complete player: the psychology of winning hockey. Toronto: Stoddart
Ravizza, K., & Hanson, T. (1995). Heads-Up Baseball. Indianapolis, IN: Masters Press.
Harris, D. V. & Harris, B. L. (1984). The athlete’s guide to sports psychology: mental skills for physical people. New York: Leisure Press.
Jackson, S.A. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999) Flow in sport. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics
Mack, G. & Casstevens, D. (2001). Mind gym: An athletes guide to inner excellence. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
Riley, P. (1993). The winner within: A life plan for team players. New York: Riles & Company, Inc.
Williams, J. M. & Krane, V. (1998). Psychological Characteristics of Peak Performance. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology (pp. 158-170). Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company
Rotella, B. (1995). Golf is not a game of perfect. NewYork: Simon & Shuster.