Mental Focus in Sports

One reason athletes lose confidence and choke in competition is because they focus on the wrong things. Focusing on outcomes, who the competition is that day or other distractions can pull your attention away from what is important. Effective mental focus in sports can be learned. By learning to focus on the right things, an athlete can keep or regain confidence in her game and avoid choking.  The most effective mental focus is what many mental game specialists call a process focus. By focusing on the process of doing your sport, you leave less room for doubts and distractions to creep into your mind.

First, let me explain a little more about unproductive focus before I turn to forming a more effective mental focus for your sport.  When an athlete is too concerned about adding an L or W to the win/loss column or worries too much about achieving a particular score or thinks he must run a perfect race, the athlete puts negative pressure on his performance. When the game isn’t going your way, when it looks like you cannot achieve the outcome you’ve decided you must achieve, you start to get tense, play tentatively or become afraid of making mistakes. As soon as an athlete becomes more focused on avoiding mistakes than on striving for success, his focus has become much less effective.

Another unproductive focus is letting distractions, doubts, or errors dominate your thoughts. If you find yourself thinking, “I can’t”, or “what if…”, or “I can’t believe I dorked up that last play”, you’ve allowed your mind to stray from the task at hand. To regain a better mental focus, you have to remember why you are there. The answer is: I’m here to compete and play my sport the best I can play today!!

How do you do that? By focusing on the process. That means focusing on things that will contribute to you performing the tasks of your sport in the present moment—hitting the three-pointer, ripping the dive, throwing the pitch, sinking the putt, running the pass pattern… Any thought that does not directly contribute to completing that task is unproductive, ineffective, and may undermine confidence.  To achieve effective mental focus for your sport, you must focus on thoughts and actions that are relevant to you completing the tasks of your sport.  It may be helpful to make a list of relevant vs. non-relevant inputs. Then when you recognize that your thoughts have wandered to the irrelevant, you can stop and refocus on the relevant. As you learn to focus on the process of your performance, you will find the end results take care of themselves. The worries and what-ifs will fade. You will play more relaxed and be more effective.


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