Recently a coach shared that the biggest thing I could help with this season is to help the athletes stay completely focused at training and races. This seems to be a common theme being echoed by many coaches of both the physical and mental sides. Here we must consider that it in not the goal to be 100% focused during every second of training or competition, rather the right kind of focus during the right situation.
First, you must know why you are doing what you are doing. If your motivation is not clear it can be easy for your mind to wander. People have many reasons for doing things. The ones based on our own intrinsic motivations are the most powerful. Some questions to consider when trying to answer ‘why’.
Why did you choose to commit to your sport at this level?
Why do you show up to dryland?
What do you love about your sport?
How does skiing or riding make you feel?
Who is someone that you look up to?
What moments have given you the greatest satisfaction in your sport? What made them so satisfying?
“I want to win, and having the gold medal as my goal forces me to ski or ride to win. But what I love to do, what my dream is, is to compete to win.”
This athlete is motivated by their dream (the love of competition) every day to work in the direction of their goals.
Second, we must consider what to focus on during training. Consider the following principles of quality practice. Quality practice is the way in which it is suggested that we reach 10,000 hours of practice to become an ‘expert’. The take home here being it matters how we train, not just the time put in.
Practice makes permanent- the thing you do most is what will come out when you are under stress (during competition).
Concentrated effort- Do you practice just to practice? Do you practice and practice, then get in a game and practice more? The purpose of practice is to prepare to perform.
Practice with a purpose – what can I do today in practice to make myself better? What specifically am I going to work on?
And Finally, it is important to know exactly how to practice your attention control. It is a skill that can be improved. Good intentions of practicing with a purpose for example will only get you so far.
One way to improve focus is to simply notice your mind is wandering, and without judgment bring it back to the activity. With practice you will notice your mind wandering sooner, it will become easier not to judge that thought and bring it back, and you will find yourself being off topic less and less.
Sometimes focus can be a word thrown around like the action to take after is very clear, but often times it is not. Hopefully now you will have more direction in how to get the most out of training and competing.
Here’s to passion (why), precisions (what) and practice (how)!