“Focus out there!”
Go to just about any sports event and you will inevitably hear a coach scream this command out to his or her players. Focused athletes play better (and often reach their full potential) because they direct their attention to relevant variables, while simultaneously disregarding irrelevant distractions. The challenge, however, is getting a buy-in from athletes that focus is a skill worthy of developing, and then actually teaching athletes how to successfully focus. Yes, focusing is an active process, and not just something you snap your fingers and see immediate focus improvements.
How focus helps
When we direct our attention toward a target, we experience our best efforts. Conversely, even when we have the skills to succeed at a task if our attention is compromised and divided, we will experience below-average results. Focus, therefore, is an incredibly important and powerful piece relating to success, and the great news is it is something we can all learn to do at a high level.
When we are focused we know exactly what we are expected to do, allowing us to carry out plans and fulfill expectations. Below are examples of the benefits of successful focus:
- Increases confidence and minimizes nerves. By focusing on the things you do well you will not only gain confidence, but also ward off negative anxiety.
- Provides direction and instruction. Focus on the next play and what you are supposed to do and the odds of you “choking” dramatically decrease.
- Speeds up skill acquisition. Putting all your attention to carrying out learning a new skill will allow you to save time, as well as perform more efficiently.
- Blocks out distractions. If you want to block out a tough crowd the key is to re-frame and dedicate all your attention to the next play.
- Helps with memory recall. If you feel like you are likley to forget a play or some other important task assigned to you, a cue word can be used to improve focus.
Variables impacting focus
When it comes to improving focus, there are a few important questions to answer. First, it’s important to determine the differences between what is relevant and irrelevant as it applies to your success. For athletes, it’s relevant to know the tasks associated with your position, but irrelevant to expend energy focusing on fans in the crowd. Dividing attention between relevant and irrelevant factors steals energy, disrupts rhythm, and leaves athletes athletes vulnerable to unforced errors and mistakes.
Another issue relating to focus is whether something is controllable or uncontrollable. Rather than wasting energy and focus on things you don’t control (the weather), it’s better to turn your attention toward things you control and lead to your success. Some examples might include your pre-game mental preparation, being ready to go when your number is called, and successfully dealing with adversity when things don’t go your way.
A third factor that impacts focus is your ability to sustain attention when needed. For example, when an official makes a bad call do you quickly move on to the next play, or do you get stuck and allow your frustration to bog you down for the rest of the game? Since it can be difficult to remember what to do when in the throes of a stressful situation, many athletes have found it helpful to develop a cue word to use that quickly reminds them where to turn their attention at any given time. Remember, it’s one thing to focus when not dealing with stress, but how you direct your focus in difficult situations is where the real improvements are witnessed.
“Just focus out there” is actually a much bigger deal than what you might think, especially when you consider all the ways in which focus directly impacts performance. Simply having natural ability in life will only take you so far, and you may actually be limiting your growth and potential if focus issues are an ongoing problem. Compete smarter, not harder by learning how to master your focus so that you can play above what others think you are capable of achieving.