I can’t tell you how often I get inquiries to help get someone to “focus better”. The problem is deeper and broader than something like “keep your eye on the ball”, or “count your breaths”, or “use your cue phrase”.
Focus requires a focus. It requires a comprehensive concentration on your ultimate goal. So before you ask how you can focus better, this is my recommendation.
- Set long term outcome goals. If you don’t have goals (destination) then it doesn’t matter what you are doing. Every direction you go is right. Take a right, take a left, go straight… it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant to think about “how” to go right, left of straight. Clearly defined goals are where you start the conversation about focus.
- Establish process goals. If you do not have process goals (daily/weekly action items) that lead you to your destination (outcome goal) then it really doesn’t matter what you focus on. Process goals come in the form of detailed training programs, specific daily workouts, cross-training, nutrition and/or other actions you can take to increase your odds of successfully meeting your destination.
- Create purposeful practices. First, every training session must have a physical purpose that contributes to achieving your outcome. If you don’t have a sound training program – you are already lost. Sound training creates a daily focus that simultaneously increases confidence. Second, your practices should have a mental game purpose. How else do you learn how to be mentally tough? How else do you learn to focus? It starts in training. It doesn’t wait for competition day.
- Identify task irrelevant cues – those things that are not relevant to peak performance or perfect execution of a skill.When you think excuses, barriers, distractions – you identify irrelevant cues. You must know what distracts you. You cannot remedy what you do not know impedes your performance. These can be on a daily basis for training (e.g. time management) or in competition (e.g. being watched by people, fatigue). It can also be internally driven such as negative self-talk and doubts.
- Identify task relevant cues – those things that are relevant to executing skills to the best of your ability. In every activity there are specific actions, decision points, movements and techniques that should be followed. If you don’t know them then you also do not know what is important to focus on at any point in your training and competition.
- Create unique focus solutions. You need multiple methods to counter your distractions. There is no single solution for all athletes, all sports, all situations. You need a toolbox full of solutions. And those solutions (techniques) must be practiced and mastered in training.
- Master your skills. Peak performances require skill mastery. You cannot have a peak performance if you are still in a learning mode of basic athletic skills. Your focus is on how to do a skill (e.g. basketball dribbling, triathlon transitions, drafting/passing competitors) instead of competing and focused in the moment.
- Be in top physical condition. To focus on the execution of skills, competition tactics, and pushing yourself to new limits; you must be prepared to do so. Supreme mental focus does not overcome poor conditioning.
So, the ability to focus is not simply about a cue word or single focal point. When you focus on the right things in training, you’ll better be able to focus on the right things in the big competition.
Next time you say to someone that you are having difficulty focusing or are easily distracted complete the items on this list. Only then can you begin to address your focus issue.
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