I wrote an article for The Examiner today about how the Cleveland Cavaliers can improve their sports performance and break their current 26 game losing streak (the longest in sports history). The advice I gave was for the team to use present focus orientation rather than get caught up thinking about the length of the streak (past focus), or looking too far ahead toward the end of the season when everyone can look toward next year (future focus). While it may seem like incredibly simple and obvious advice, the reality is that directing and maintaining ones focus on the only thing important in sports — the next play — is something that can be very difficult to do (Mind of Steel).
In the field of sport psychology this is an example of a skill designed to help improve mental toughness.Similar to how millions of people struggle with weight loss, and as a result tend to look “outside the box” for quick fixes and cures, athletes often do the same thing when it comes to superstitious ideas about how to break a slump. For everyday people battling weight, many look to extreme diets or even radical surgeries to fix the problem, when all they really have to do is the same thing that has worked since human beings first walked the earth – eat less food and move your body more. The same is true with sports — there are no “quick fixes,” but when athletes really pull all their focus together and direct it toward in-the-moment experiences many good things happen. In addition to having greater concentration and focus acuity, athletes also become more resilient toward stress as they don’t stop and dwell on bad plays (they are already looking toward the next play).
Unfortunately, when it comes to focus life often gets in the way, making the task of staying on focus a much more difficult proposition than what it may appear. By the way, this is not unique to professional sports — if you are a parent, how many times have you looked out toward the outfield and noticed a youngster picking dandelions instead of getting ready for the next batter?!
When athletes struggle with focus the biggest problem I see is that they tend to over-correct perceived problems that may not even exist. For example, many athletes will immediately want to tweak their swing or shot – sometimes even obsessively – even though their real problem stems from something entirely different (like a focus, anxiety, or anger problem). Still, the false thinking is usually “fix my swing” rather than working toward improving attentional focus.
For the Cavs, the real task they face right now is minimizing outside distractions (like the daily media cycle that features their losing streak at the top of the news). Of course, adding future talent will also help, but even with the guys they have right now they can still win a few games. Coach Byron Scott has many hats to wear right now, inclduing teacher, coach, mentor, and disciplinarian, amongst others — but his real task will be getting his guys to direct their focus on the next play. Yes, simple advice, but sometimes it is simple advice that pays the biggest dividends in life!