Have you ever really thought about focus? Prime Ski Racing author Jim Taylor, Ph.D., looks at focus from an athlete’s perspective, helping competitor’s concentrate attention in a winning way. He introduces us to the term “attentional field”: The thoughts, emotions, and physical responses within you as well as the outside sights and sounds you focus on. He asks us to think of focus as “the ability to attend to internal and external cues in your attentional field.”
A well-focused athlete knows where to focus her attention for the best results on the playing field. Some people find success through an internal focus style; they concentrate on their sport and technique while training or competing, knowing they can be “easily distracted by activity in the immediate surroundings.” Other competitors do best with an external focus style, focusing on outside sights and sounds right up until the moment of competition or while training, knowing that they over think if they are concentrating on their sport too much.
What type of focus works for you? Dr. Taylor suggests analyzing past races, thinking about the types of focus you used and which type of focus led to good results.
Dr. Taylor has many tips for developing focus. The simplest way to train your focus is to place your eyes where you need to focus. To get rid of external distractions (if this works for you) keep “your eyes down and on the course.” Or, if critical thinking ruins you, look around you and talk to other athletes before competition or during training breaks.
Dr. Taylor also tells us to “focus on what we can control.” We have heard this before and we will hear it again: The only thing under our control is ourselves. Unfortunately, the weather and everything else is just not under our jurisdiction. Dr. Taylor offers us the four P’s to help align our focus on ourselves:
Positive: Avoid negative thinking or replace each negative thought with a positive statement.
Process: “Focus on what you need to do to ski [play] your best,” from training to honing your technique.
Present: The past is over and winning is in the future. What are you doing at this very moment? Focus on the here and now.
Progress: Comparing yourself to others is a no-win situation. “Focus on your own improvement.”
Focus may seem simple, but developing the right type of concentration is vital. A sport psychologist can help you create the focus you need to play your sport at your optimum level.