While sports injuries cannot be avoided, the risk for injury can be minimized when athletes do one very important thing every time they go out to compete: Focus. When athletes are engaged, attentive, and interested in competition, the mind-body synchrony strengthens, allowing the body to better and more quickly respond to contact and reducing the risk for unnecessary injury. Conversely, when athletes compete with only a divided focus, they become susceptible to serious, catastrophic injuries.
Why slipping on ice is so dangerous
If you have ever slipped on a patch of ice it not only hurt, but it’s very likely you experienced an injury from the fall — and in some cases, a very serious injury. What is odd, at least on the surface, is why such a relatively short fall often leads to broken fingers, limbs, and concussions? To contrast this curiosity further, think about how much harder football and hockey players are hit on every play, yet the vast majority of them bounce right back with any real pain or suffering. How can a wide receiver get leveled going up for a catch and walk away from the play with no problem, but if you slip on a piece of ice there’s a good chance you end up in the hospital?
The reason why an ice slip is usually more harmful than a sport hit has to do with one very important factor: Focus.
Unlike the athlete who expects and braces for a tough hit, people who fall on ice rarely prepare for such a fall. Because we are not ready to fall on ice, even a short 2-3′ fall can lead to tragic consequences. The net result is that a short, unprepared fall is almost always worse than a physical hit in sports. The big takeaway? When you are focused and prepared, the chances for injury decrease. Conversely, when we are unfocused something as seemingly small as a short fall on ice can result in terrible injury.
How to improve focus
Developing the ability to focus not only minimizes risk for injury, but also helps athletes reach their full athletic potential. Fortunately, there are a few basic sport psychology skills that athletes of all ages and skill levels can use to help improve focus, including the following:
- Pre-game routine. Take control of your pre-game preparation by doing things that help you feel good and improves your focus, including reviewing goals, listening to music, completing a full-body stretch, and thinking through what you want to happen today.
- Cue word. A word, phrase, or acronym can be created and written in places that will help athletes with focus, including inside the locker, on a piece of equipment, or even the athlete’s hand.
- Self-talk. Simply telling yourself to stay focused on the next play can be invaluable, especially during times where outside distractions like a hostile opposing crowd can potentially impact the game on the field.
- Imagery. Steer clear of thinking about things from the past, or even things outside the game. Instead, try focusing on what you need to do on the next play, then see yourself executing that play perfectly.
While not every injury can be prevented, many can be – especially when you are focused. Remember, even the slightest hit can lead to terrible results if you are not ready for contact, as what occurs when we slip on ice. Make sure you have a pre-game routine developed, as well as techniques you can use during practices and games when your mind wanders.