Category: Focus

Preventing Mental Fatigue

By: Premier Intern Staff

We’re often asked the best ways for athletes to avoid mental fatigue.  Our answer tends to be a combination of motivation and focus training.

First, we tell athletes to tap into their motivators.  We ask them to remember what drives them in their sport.  We ask them to remember what they love about their sport, what gets them out of bed each day and drives them to perform, and we tap into those core motivators.  That’s what we’re really after: those intrinsic drivers that first brought the athletes to their sport.

It’s easy for athletes’ focus to drift to the pressures and expectations of competing.  They want to achieve a specific goal or a targeted outcome. And that’s fine. But when we hold our focus on those reasons alone, we can sometimes lose the primary reasons that we began playing the sport in the first place.  That’s what often leads to mental fatigue and burnout.

On the other hand, if we’re conscious of what we’re attending to, and how much pressure we’re putting on ourselves, and if we routinely tap back into those initial motivators and remember the reasons we love the game we play, we’re less apt to burn out, and more likely sustain our passion and energy for the game in good times and bad.

 

How Sport Psychology Has Helped One Hockey Goalie

By: Premier Intern Staff

“I’d probably say 90% of [hockey] is mental.” -Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart¹

Carter Hart is the top goaltender in the Canadian Hockey League- earning this title the past two seasons he has played in the league. He is also the top goalie prospect for the Philadelphia Flyers, being called the future cornerstone of the franchise. Not only is he talented as a goalie because of his reflexes and hockey ability, but also because of how strong he is mentally. Like most athletes aspiring to make it to elite levels of their sport, Hart has worked with trainers and goalie coaches since he was 10 years old. What separates him from other athletes and hockey goalies is that he has worked with a sport psychologist since he was young. Hart says that working with a sport psychologist has made him more focused, confident, and calm in the nets- lending to his athletic ability and making him an overall better and mature player.

Hart considers the mental skills training as an important part of his overall training, and not as an add on that takes the backseat to all the physical training. Everyday, Carter worked on the mental side of his game. He would use tools such as imagery, where he would imagine his past successes, he would use concentration grids, mindfulness, meditation, and more. With the help of his sport psychologist he created a toolbox of exercises and activities that he could use whenever he needed to, whether it was in training, practice, or games, Hart had sport psychology tools at his disposal whenever he needed them. All of these mental tools have made Hart more and more mentally tough over the years. At the young age of 19 (only 21 when he is aiming to join the Flyers) Hart will have the mental skills that will make him seem like a seasoned player, a unique skill that could contribute his potential success as an individual and to the Flyers franchise. Definitely be on the look out for this kid in the future, his grit and mental skills could help Hart go far in the NHL. To read more about how Carter Hart credits some of his success to mental skills training: http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/flyers/485164131.html

More and more athletes (pro, elite, competitive, high school, etc), are taking advantage of the beneficial services that certified mental performance coaches (CMPCs) and licensed sport psychologists have to offer. Working with a CMPC or sport psychologist can help athletes learn how to deal with the mental aspect of sport such as anxiety, confidence, focus, imagery, mental health, motivation, etc. Working on mental skills can take your sport performance to the next level.

¹Source: Carchidi, Sam. (27 June 2018). If flyers prospect Carter Hart has a long career, credit his sport psychologist. The Inquirer.

 

 

 

 

 

Olympians: Performing Under Pressure

By: Premier Intern Staff

Olympians: Performing Under Pressure 

It takes many qualities to be an Olympian; passion, determination, motivation, commitment, discipline and consistency to name a few. One important mental skill that can often be overlooked in Olympic athletes’ is mental toughness.

Mental toughness is described as the ability to cope with pressure, adversity and stress (Bull, 1996). After spending a lifetime of training and perfecting form for a single opportunity to compete in an Olympic games, Olympians can understandably feel an intense amount of pressure and stress when it comes time for their final performance. Research shows that athletes achieve the best performance results when they have more mental toughness, as measured by commonly associated attributes (Bull, 1996).

Mental strength and awareness influences many underlying mechanisms that operate in a combination to achieve a successful mindset and performance outcome. Every practice and competition begins with the way an athlete thinks and what their mindset is focused on. The quality of our thoughts is critical and can often attribute to our success or our shortcomings.

Being able to perform under pressure, such as competing at the 2018 Olympics, involves years of concentration, determination, and stability of a positive attitude to obtain mental strength. Just like practicing physical skills, practicing mental skills such as dealing with stress, performance setbacks, bad weather conditions or fatigue can impact performance. The quality of an Olympian that makes them so successful is that regardless of any implications standing in their way, they stand in the face of adversity and remain confident in their skills.  

Mental toughness is a skill any athlete can acquire that can help to positively influence performance. Studies conducted at Staffordshire University showed that athletes with high levels of confidence and control reported feeling less physical discomfort during competition and higher levels of concentration than those who had less confidence (Hamilton, 2015). This evidence supports the importance of mental toughness for performance and how significant it is to believe in yourself and your abilities.

 

References

Bull, S. J., Albinson, J. G., & Shambrook, C. J. (1996). The mental game plan: Getting psyched for sport. Eastbourne, UK: Sports Dynamics.

Hamilton, M. (2015) “How Much Does Mental Toughness Affect Race Times?” Runner’s World, 26 May 2015, www.runnersworld.com/newswire/how-much-does-mental-

toughness-affect-race-times.

 

 

 

The Psychological Effect of Long Distance Pacers

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

If you have run or even watched a marathon, you have surely seen the pacers leading packs of people while carrying pieces of paper on poles signifying the time that they are pacing for. Pacers are experienced runners who keep track of the time during a race and run at a pace which will allow them to finish the race at the time their sign publicizes. Less experienced runners run nearby the pacer during a race to be sure that they finish at the time they desire without over exerting themselves.

Pacers take much of the thought out of running. Instead of a runner having to pace himself or herself, one simply has to keep up with the pacer. Because of this, pacers have been used throughout the history of running to break world records. One of the most significant of these records is Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile. The sub-four-minute mile was thought to be unreachable. Athletes had tried time and time again, often running the mile just seconds above four minutes. Bannister was the first to run a mile below four minutes, finishing the mile at 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds in 1954, and he credits much of this time to the two pacers who helped him during the race, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher. More recently, Nike put on a project for three champion marathoners to break the two-hour marathon with the help of pacers and Nike’s new marathon designed shoe. With multiple different pacing groups containing many different experienced runners, Nike created an intense pacing plan which allowed one runner to finished at 2:00:25, 2 minutes closer to the sub-two-hour marathon than ever before.

From these examples, it is clear to see that pacing is a way to both assist and push runners. But how does it work? While much of the effect of pacing can be said to be due to physiological effects, psychologically, pacers allow runners’ focus on more important aspects of race. During a race without a pacer, runners have multiple things to think about. Runners are receiving many signals throughout a race including those of pain from their aching bodies telling them to slow down or stop. If a runner is not focused on something ahead of them, they are likely to have their focus drift to the feelings of pain, causing them to slow down without even noticing it. A pacer in front of the runner allows that runner to focus solely on keeping up and keeps the runner in check.

One research study measured the effects of a self-controlled pace versus a pace set by a second runner on a nonelite runner. The results showed that when the second runner was setting the pace, the nonelite runners perceived the run as easier, despite the fact that it was still the same 5 km that they had run at a self-controlled pace (Bath et al., 2012). Yet another study showed that an externally-controlled pace aided performance when compared to a self-controlled pacing strategy due to increased attentional focus (Brick et al., 2016). The results of these two studies suggest that running alongside a pacer aids performance because it reduces the amount of mental energy a runner has to use on thoughts regarding their pace. A runner who is focused on maintaining their pace sacrifices mental energy that could be put towards more important aspects such pushing himself or herself to the finish line.

So what does this mean for other sports? While the concept of a pacemaker cannot be introduced into many other competitive realms, such as basketball, learning from the benefits gained from pacemakers can help your own performance. The main benefit gained from pacemakers is, evidently, that reducing the amount of required thought about topics which can be externally controlled can aid in both focus and performance. With this, you can take the idea of narrowing your focus, apply it to your own performance, and like a runner following a pacer, keep your head up and look forward.

 

References

Bath, D., Turner, L.A., Bosch, A.N., Tucker, R. Lambert, E.V., Thompson, K.G., & St Clair Gibson, (2012). The effect of a second runner on pacing strategy and RPE during a running time trial. International Journal of Sport Physiology Performance, 7(1), 26-32.

Brick, N.E., Campbell, M.J., Metcalfe, R.S., Mair, J.L, & MacInyre, T.E. (2016). Altering pace control and pace regulation: Attentional focus effects during running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(5), 879-86. doi: 10.1249/MS.0000000000000843.

Friel, A. (2016). Hired guns: A brief history of the pacer [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://thelongslowdistance.com/2016/02/09/hired-guns-a-brief-history-of-the-pacer/.

Huebsch, T. (2017). Big names in running comprise roster of pacers set to lead Nike’s Breaking2 attempt [News Article]. Retrieved from http://runningmagazine.ca/nikes-sub-two-marathon-breaking2-pacers/.

Nolan, A. (2017). So close! Kipchoge runs a 2:00:25 in the Breaking2 attempt [News Article]. Retrieved from http://www.runnersworld.com/2-hour-marathon/so-close-kipchoge-runs-a-20025-in-the-breaking2-attempt.

 

 

QUIZ (DISTANCE RUNNING): What does your attentional focus type say about your race performance?

By: Premier Intern Staff

If you are a distance runner, it’s quite possible that you are familiar with the question, “What do you focus on during such a long race?” This may be especially true for those of you who run marathons. 26.2 grueling miles’ worth of running, which typically equates to several hours, is more than plenty of time for your mind to really hone in on something—whether that be your running form, your levels of exertion and pain, the people around you, your breathing, or simply the ground in front of you. So it’s only natural for those who do not compete in long-distance races to wonder how you mentally make it through, and just what you could possibly be thinking about that whole time.

Yet, have you ever asked yourself these questions? Do you voluntarily choose where to put your focus during a race, or have you even considered the idea that your decision could have significant effects on your performance? Take the quiz in order to find out if and how you can possibly improve your race results—just in time for this year’s Boston Marathon.

 

1. Where do you put the majority of your focus during a race?

A) Externally: I tend to focus most on my surroundings, e.g., other runners, the scenery, my music, or the crowd and people who are cheering me on –– go to question 2

B) Internally: I tend to focus most on my breathing and/or other immanent factors, e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion –– go to question 3

 

2. Do you believe that having a primarily external focus helps your performance, or is your area of focus and attention something you hope to change in order to improve?

A) I think that keeping my focus on my surroundings makes me run faster and/or more efficiently than focusing on internal factors and sensations. –– result: E/E

B) I think that I could improve my overall race performance if I were to shift my primary focus from external to internal conditions. –– go to question 4

C) I don’t think it really matters. –– result: X

 

3. Have you ever been told that you should focus on your breathing during a race, did you do so, and did that seem to positively affect your performance?

A) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. I did so, and I believe that it helped me. –– go to question 5

B) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. I did so, and I believe that it either did nothing in regards to my overall performance or negatively affected it. –– go to question 6

C) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. But I did not actually do so, because it seemed like either it would negatively impact my performance or it would be pointless. –– go to question 6

D) No, I cannot recall having been told to focus on my breathing. –– go to question 6

 

4. In what way do you believe that remaining internally-focused throughout the majority a race could most positively affect you?

A) I don’t think it would necessarily help me run a faster time, but it could help me avoid pain by allowing me to monitor and correctly pace myself and/or by allowing me to concentrate on running form and thus decrease chance of injury. OR, it could help me in some other way, but still, it would not improve my overall race time. –– result: E/X

B) It would help me run a faster time because I can focus on form and thereby maximize my running efficiency. –– result: E/I

C) It would help me run a faster time because I can pay more attention to how I am pacing myself. –– result: E/I

D) It would help me run a faster time for a reason other than the options listed above. –– result: E/I

 

5. Do you believe that focusing on your breathing throughout a race would always or almost always help you run a faster time?

A) Yes, focusing on breathing while I race is something which has continued and/or can continue to boost my performance. –– result: B/B

B) No, focusing on my breathing was just something which helped me that one time, and I don’t believe that it will (likely) continue to be something which helps me throughout races in the future. –– go to question 6

 

6. Do you believe that having a primarily internal focus helps your performance, or is your area of focus and attention something you hope to change in order to improve?

A) I think that keeping my focus internal makes me run faster and/or more efficiently than focusing on external factors. –– result: I/I

B) I think that I could improve my overall race performance if I were to shift my primary focus from internal to external conditions. –– go to question 7

C) I don’t think it really matters. –– result: X

 

7. In what way do you believe that remaining externally focused throughout the majority of a race could most positively affect you?

A) I don’t think it would necessarily help me run a faster time, but it could help me avoid pain by distracting me. OR, it could help me in some other way, but still, it would not improve my overall race time. –– result: I/X

B) It would help me run a faster time because I can focus on passing/staying ahead of other runners. –– result: I/E

C) It would help me run a faster time because it could help me avoid pain by distracting me, thus allowing me to push myself harder. –– result: I/E

D) It would help me run a faster time for a reason other than the options listed above. –– result: I/E

 

Results:

E/E

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. You also do not plan on changing this direction of attentional focus anytime soon. Good news—not only are you right to be focusing on external conditions, but you are also correct in deeming this something which does not need to be changed. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

X

Even though you believe that it doesn’t matter where you put your focus during a race, you took this quiz. So whether it was out of boredom, curiosity, or some sliver of doubt in your belief, you were nonetheless right in doing so. The good news, therefore, is that you are already on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

E/X

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. Even if you did not realize it, you have been putting your attention where it is most beneficial to your running economy—so despite being previously unaware that direction of attentional focus could affect your times, you are already in a good habit. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

E/I

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. Even if you did not realize it, you are already putting your focus where it will likely maximize your running economy, so there is no need to change. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

B/B

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. Additionally, and as a subtype of these internal conditions, you put intentional focus on your breathing. However, breathing is likely the most sub-optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—at least in terms of running economy, that is. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/I

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. However, the most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/X

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. However, the most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/E

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body—yet you hope to change this. The most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. So good news: you are now on the right track. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

 

 

Reference:
Schücker, L., Hagemann, N., Strauss, B., & Völker, K. (2009). The effect of attentional focus on running economy. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(12), 1241-1248. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640410903150467

 

 

Growth Mindset

By: Premier Intern Staff

“You can do anything that you set your mind to.” Not quite, but whatever you set your mind to, you can absolutely make better.  There is a mentality called the growth mindset that can be adopted by all people which leads to greater success and overall performance. Having a growth mindset is associated with having the fundamental belief that your abilities and outcomes are influenced by hard work (as opposed to mere natural talent). It is a way of thinking that not only increases your motivation levels, giving you the drive to work towards your goals, but one that also allows for greater bounce-back from challenges faced along the way (otherwise known as resiliency). The athletes who adopt this way of thinking are the ones that tend to stand out from the rest. They are the ones that persistently look for ways in which they can improve their game and work hard to correct mistakes or bad habits. “Athletes with the growth mindset find success in doing their best, in learning and improving” (Dweck, 2006). They don’t need a prize to feel confident, and instead attain it through adopting a growth mindset and focusing on self-improvement.  Not everyone has this same way of thinking, though, for there is another mindset called the “fixed mindset” that people often adopt.

The fixed mindset is associated with the fundamental belief that your ability level is limited by natural talent. Which, in essence, is what makes success and outcomes set at a fixed level determined by said ability.  Athletes that have a fixed mindset have a fear of trying and failing. Instead of working hard to engage in their own improvement (as someone with the growth mindset would), they often get caught up in their failures/shortcomings, comparing their ability levels to other athletes around them. Someone with a fixed mindset may have all kinds of natural talent, but that talent means very little if they lack the motivation to develop it into something better.

They undermine their chances of success by assuming that their talent alone will take them where they want to go. Because talent has allowed things to come easier to them throughout their career, their confidence is quickly put to the test and often diminishes when they run into a set-back of any kind. The truth is, the athlete isn’t always to blame for having this kind of mindset. Coaches and parents have an influence on their athlete’s mindset based on the way that they communicate with them. When their athlete does something well, parents and coaches often fall into the habit of praising their talent and accomplishments, rather than praising the hard work that the athlete put forth to get there. Although praise is what many athletes like to hear, “children need honest and constructive feedback that pushes them towards growth as well” (Dweck, 2006).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that a coach or parent should negate praise altogether, but they should be cautious as to what message they are sending the athlete through the way that they deliver that praise. At the end of the day, “the athlete should recognize the value of challenging themselves and the importance of effort over anything else” (Dweck, 2006).

One athlete who used the growth mindset to overcome failure throughout his athletic career was Michael Jordan. Believe it or not, he wasn’t always the star athlete that people view him as today. Not only was Jordan cut from his high school’s varsity team, he never got recruited to play for his top college team, and was passed up during the first two draft picks in the NBA. BUT instead of viewing these so-called “failures” as reasons to give up (as many people would), he used them as motivators. In fact, Michael Jordan was featured in a Nike ad where he says, “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed, and that is why I succeed” (Dweck, 2006). He succeeds because he has trained his mind to see failure and defeat as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. This should be the mindset of every athlete, for “success is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” (Quote by Colin Powell)

 

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 1st ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006. Print.

 

 

March Madness and Focus

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

March Madness is here, and fans are itching to see which NCAA Division 1 men’s and women’s basketball teams will be the last ones standing. People from all over the United States have made predictions about which teams will advance and which ones will crumble. Logic, however, rarely gets its way when it comes to March Madness. Every year, we witness unexpected upsets and blowouts. So why are some teams more clutch than others when it comes to the games that matter most? The answer may lie heavily in the players’ abilities to exercise one mental skill properly––focus. Every team in the tournament has physical talent, there’s no doubt about that. They are all well-trained and conditioned for highly competitive moments like these, but which teams can truthfully say that they are as prepared mentally as they are physically? Those who can are the teams who will likely wind up advancing furthest in the tournament.

There are two primary ways in which players can enhance their focus on the court. The first method involves concentrating on the processes and actions which have helped them to achieve success during past games. Some athletes almost involuntarily form game-day consistent routines over time as they progress in their careers. These may include things such as listening to pre-game music to calm nerves, taking the same number of dribbles before a free throw, or thinking back to past achievements and attempting to replicate the actions and mindset which aided in attaining those achievements. Players who have not yet created routines could greatly benefit from doing so, as these may help them to focus on the task at hand, as opposed to becoming overwhelmed or letting their nerves get the best of them. By performing dependable procedures and drawing on previous successes throughout each game, players are able to build confidence through consistency. Rather than merely focusing on the score and on wanting to win, they are keyed into the processes which can ultimately help them to do so.

A second way players can amplify their level of focus is by thinking about the controllables of the game rather than the uncontrollables. Within the sport of basketball, uncontrollables may include factors such as expectations from others, qualities of the opposing team (e.g., size, speed, skills, reputation, and character), playing time, and calls made by the refs (Competitive Advantage, 1999). Concentrating on these aspects of the game takes mental energy away from a player’s own actions and from what they as an individual can do to perform optimally. If a player cannot change something, then the only way to get around it is to deal with what they can change. Doing so inevitably helps them navigate the unchangeable factors of the game, thereby giving them a better shot at winning. Controllables such as communication, hustle, drive, aggressive play, and encouragement of teammates are all examples of factors which can have significant effects on the outcome of a basketball game.

The games during March Madness are not the only ones for which focus is paramount. In fact, this idea is not at all exclusive to basketball. No matter your sport, it is advantageous to concentrate on the processes which have helped you to be successful in the past. Additionally, everyone can benefit from allowing themselves to let go of what they cannot control, because doing so frees up the mind to focus on the things which can be done to maximize success. It is a waste of time and energy to think about and dwell on how you could change something that you do not have power over. In the same light, concerning yourself only with the aspects of the competition which are within your control can substantially help you in bringing your A-game during those clutch moments. Focus is key for all of us, because if your mind is not where you need it to be, then it is very likely that your results won’t be, either.

 

Competitive Advantage. (1999, October). Staying Cool and Calm in the Clutch. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.competitivedge.com/staying-cool-and-calm-clutch

Coach’s Corner. (n.d.). 7 Keys to Becoming a More Focused Basketball Player. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.ussportscamps.com/tips/basketball/7-keys-focused-basketball-player

 

 

Finding that “Fall Magic”

By: Premier Intern Staff

Many people say that there’s magic in the air during October baseball, but what really makes that “fall magic” happen? And what does it look like?

To first answer the question of what this fall magic looks like, consider Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, which from an outsider’s perspective went down in history as one of the greatest baseball games of all time. As Skip Schumacher (a Cardinals outfielder who was on the winning side of the game) put it, “This is the best game I’ve ever been a part of, ever seen.” The Texas Rangers may have been the only ones who did not see the game through the same “best game” lens that late October night. Up two runs and one strike-out away from winning their first ever championship – twice – the Rangers could not seal the deal. They had chances in the 9th and 10th innings to close the game, but the St. Louis Cardinals erased those multiple two-run leads and walked off in home run fashion in the bottom of the 11th. That’s fall magic.

The World Series – a.k.a. “The Fall Classic” – which involves the champion representatives from the American and National Leagues in Major League Baseball has long been titled America’s pastime. Although slow to the plate in comparison to the three other major league sports in the US, (pun intended) the MLB has instituted instant replay these days. Managers (or the umpire crew chief) may now issue a challenge during a game to review a variety of game time calls and situations. However, one of the things managers are not allowed to review is the home plate umpire’s call of balls and strikes, which undoubtedly has the greatest impact on how each game is played. The call of balls and strikes is just one of the things outside the control of this year’s Fall Classic participants, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Additional factors and distractions are endless (home field advantage, crowd noise, weather, the opposing pitcher, the manager’s decisions, etc.) and can all influence the final score. Moreover, all of these factors fall outside the control of the players. With both the Cubs and Indians waiting so many years for the opportunity to win the Fall Classic, tensions are high as is the susceptibility of the players to focus on factors outside of their control. We know that focusing on what is within their control (“controllable factors”) instead of what is not (“uncontrollable factors”), will likely have a positive influence on the ability of the players to regulate their emotions, and ultimately, their performance during the World Series.

To answer the original question of what makes “fall magic” happen, we should consider the importance of these controllable and uncontrollable factors. Looking back to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, was the Rangers’ closing pitcher (who was one strike away from helping his team win its first ever championship) thinking about the ultimate outcome of the game (uncontrollable)? Was his focus perhaps shifted from what he was doing (controllable) to how fans or teammates would react to his potential game winning pitch (uncontrollable)? It’s very likely. When the Rangers were up again by 2 runs and 1 strike away from winning the World Series in the bottom of the 10th inning, the whole team had likely shifted their focus from what was within their control to those things outside of their control.

Although there are many factors that likely went into the Cardinals being able to come back and win Game 6 (and ultimately the World Series in Game 7), accounting for controllables and uncontrollables within the game was likely crucial to both teams’ performances. Replay or not, bad umpiring or not, freezing temperatures or not, one strike away from winning the championship or not, the Indians and Cubs will want to focus on what they can control in this year’s Fall Classic (such as their Attitude, Preparation, and Effort) to give themselves a better chance of performing at their best and creating that fall magic.

Play ball.

 

 

Focus, Defined

By: Premier Intern Staff

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.