Focus Leads the Way

Focus – the ability to concentrate on a given subject – is a funny thing. (By the way, focus and concentration are used interchangeably.) I hear comments from coaches and parents in many sports telling their athletes things like – “You’re just not focusing.”, “Concentrate!”, “Focus!” Here is where they are all wrong – every last one of them. The athlete is concentrating! It just happens to be on the wrong thing or things!

Exhorting someone to concentrate doesn’t do much good if you or they do not know what to concentrate on. If I’m ready to serve in tennis I may be concentrating on how hot it is, or that I’m behind by two games or that my ranking is going to drop if I lose or that I have to avoid a double fault. None of these things are productive of course.. but I most certainly am focusing!

Sometimes we say things to runners like “don’t think about splits” or “don’t worry about them going out fast.” Not necessarily bad things, but it is only telling them what NOT to focus on.

We sometimes tell runners to “stay focused” in the race; so their mind doesn’t “wander”. Not a bad intent either, but it isn’t specific enough to actually act upon.

So, if you are going to urge someone to focus more or better here are some practical considerations.

  1. Identify both the relevant cues for your running as well as those that distract you. Be specific. Vagueness does not help.
  2. Use relevant cues you can control (versus uncontrollable elements) for the basis of your focus points.
  3. Use the relevant cues – depending on your running event, that might mean things like: listening to your foot-strike, relax your breathing, visually focusing on the back of your main competitor, it may mean split times.
  4. Agree with your athlete about any verbal cues you use. Use words or terms that have meaning and power to the athlete.
  5. Practice your “focus” in training. You won’t magically focus better by just “thinking up” relevant focal points during a race.
  6. Practice being able to refocus when things aren’t going your way. Focus is not static.

An important point needs to be made here. The ability to focus, like all other mental training techniques and skills, does not replace physical training. If you are out of shape, being able to focus will not suddenly make you beat someone who is in shape; and you will not set personal records if you have not trained appropriately for it. On the other hand, your ability to maintain appropriate focus may very well be the difference between breakthroughs you’ve only dreamed about!

If you want to know more about focusing, go to my website for a free e-book – Focus for Fitness.

And for personalized mindset and focus coaching, drop me a line, we’ll get your head in the right place – at work, at home or at play!

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