It is time to put your ex’s texts and your poor grades on the back burner and put some work in.
Life is a confusing mess, full of things that require our attention and our loyalty. Take that from the kid who has played tournaments during moves, breakups, friend’s illnesses, family sickness, loss of friends, and pretty much anything else that could confuse or distract from performance.
All of those things in life are important, and worthy of your time, consideration, and energy. Sport is different though, it can’t be split up or divided. It cannot share headspace, and it requires attention to detail. This means several things to me. I can use sport to give myself a break from the confusion of whatever is happening outside. But I also can use it to train myself to focus on one thing at a time. The truth is that most things in life shouldn’t share headspace. Learning to focus on one thing at a time is an invaluable skill. Performance always requires undivided attention, sports included. The problem is, performance isn’t always our number one concern – it becomes such when we partake in things like sports, test taking, or flying helicopters.
Focusing at tournaments starts with focus at training. You need practice focusing intently. You also gain a lot more from training when you are focused well. We need to learn how to focus well!
I have been competing for a lot of years, been reading books on sports psychology for almost as many years, and I have a few tricks that work for me. However, like all things you will need to find what works for you. I am no sports psychologist, and while I have worked with a few, the following is simply an explanation of what works for me – don’t just mimic me, find your own set of tools!
Put the phone away! The first, and simplest thing I do before practice and before competition is put my phone away at least half an hour before I get on court. If it is a tournament often putting the phone away first thing in the morning helps me stay focused on competing.
Visualize. It is often the unknown that scares us. Visualizing helps run through every scenario. Have you ever been in a situation on court where you just lost three straight points and your tactics aren’t working? I have. The easiest solution is to run through the different possibilities before the match and contemplate how you will respond. That way whatever happens you have already been there. You aren’t unprepared and taken by surprise. You are mentally prepared and focused. You have been there before, and played it through,
Find something concrete to focus on. Don’t let the what-if’s get you off your game. Find something concrete to focus on. This plays out in several different ways for me. I often use my racket grip as my focal point. I feel it, and concentrate on its texture and position in my hand, as well as the tension in my hand. This helps me remain calm and in the moment. I also give myself specifics to focus on in the rally. Have I been giving away the net? Hanging back too far? Then I give myself the goal of taking control of the net and getting there early. Your mind can’t wander if it is working hard on something!
Breathing. There are lots of different breath protocols for efficient energy use, focus, remaining calm, getting pumped up, ect. But there are a few very simple things I try to focus on. Nasal breathing – between rallies using nasal breathing helps keep me calm while helping drop my heart rate. Hard exhales– get rid of that carbon dioxide! There are lots of other breathing techniques, but those two things help me the most.
Stay focused, stay in the moment!
Hopefully this was insightful and interesting. Have your own techniques for staying focused? Share them in the comments!
Onward and upward!