What is focus and how do we improve it?
Focus is one of the most important aspects of performance. The ability to focus is a skill that can be learned through deliberate and intentional mental training.
But what is focus?
Focusing, simply put, is the act of paying attention to particular elements of what we perceive. Energy follows the mind, so whatever we focus on we’ll give more energy to. An ideal focus state is one that is directed to relevant aspects of the performance at hand, which frees the performer to unleash their abilities (known and dormant). An ideal focus remains strong and unwavering throughout the whole performance or training session.
Evidently, we all face moments of distraction, moments where our ideal state is shaken, or broken. Distractions can be understood as focusing on something that doesn’t help enhance our performance. We can be internally or externally distracted. Some common determinants and indicators of distraction include rushing, frustration, fatigue, fear, and complacency. But we can also be distracted by what may feel like positive states such as extreme joy and confidence.
Four critical errors that often occur when we are distracted include our eyes not being on task, mind not on task, being in the ‘line of fire’ (being in the way of something or someone moving or hitting something or someone that is in your way), and finally, problems with balance, traction, and grip.
Self-triggering is an effective way to refocus when distracted and a way to avoid the four critical errors that commonly occur when distracted.
The first step to refocusing is to have an awareness of the state you’re in, to catch that you are distracted or that you are in a state prone to distraction. You can do this by periodically saying “self-trigger” throughout your performance as an intentional check-in. Then if you notice you are primed for distraction (rushing, frustrated, or fatigued) you can repeat “self-trigger” to refocus your attention to the task at hand.
To enhance the refocusing moment you can say to yourself (or a teammate) “eyes and mind on task.” Saying “self-trigger” or “eyes and mind on task” will help bring the athlete back to the moment with heightened focus, awareness, and mindfulness.
Overall, the goal of focus training is to understand the demands and opportunities of the performance context, know ones ideal personal performance state, create performance plans to help direct the performers focus, and have tools such as self-triggering in place when re-focusing is required. Having these performance pieces in place helps create performance consistency and growth.
Author: Dr. John Coleman (PhD), Sports Psychology Consultant and High-Performance Coach
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What distractions do your athletes commonly face? How do you help your athletes stay focused?
How do you use the self-triggering technique with your athletes and team?