Tag: focus

Megan Kalmoe competes at the elite level in rowing and does everything she can in order to prepare for her racing opportunities. Athletes like Megan have to ask themselves questions about how well they are fueling their bodies or if they are working harder than their competitors each and every day. But, once Megan Kalmoe is on the starting line, there are no more questions. During a recent interview, I asked Megan about getting in her zone during races. She said that it’s difficult to articulate because going fast is something that doesn’t require much thinking; it just happens. For her, what happens after the start is simple: she just goes. She trusts in her physiology and in all of the intense training that has allowed her lungs and body to function so efficiently during races. However, the preparation that enables her success amongst the best athletes in the world does not only require tremendous physical training. Megan Kalmoe also uses mental preparation in order to be entirely equipped on the starting line.

Megan uses her brain as a muscle and makes sure that she is mentally strong in order to coordinate her arms and legs during races. This combination contributes to her speed and dominance. Her brain is especially involved in her race preparation in different ways during visualization and imagery. When Megan is racing with one other person, her pair partner, they walk through the race out loud together and discuss their plan of action. They decide on which key words they will use (such as “commit”, or “together”) and they know that these specific cues will allow them to focus on the same thing. With this, they accomplish fluency and power together in order to pass competitors or get even further ahead. They also involve multiple senses while practicing imagery. Being able to actually see the course going by, and walking through the same race several times allows them to be mentally prepared and confident that their plan and focus cues will fuel them to success.

In the recent World Cup Championships, Megan Kalmoe raced in a larger boat – the eight – allowing her to experience a different type of visualization with more of her teammates. Her coxswain talked the eight rowers through the entire length of the race, simulating the intensity and feelings that the boat would experience on the water in France. Megan and her teammates trusted in each other’s ability to take the lead together, and ultimately prevailed during this race. Their race execution and victory over the other countries shows the strength of their physical fitness and psychological mindset. Kalmoe and her teammates raced in the pair event only a few hours before, where she also medaled. Her focus allowed her to be successful in both of these races because she was able to transition between the two events and stay in the present moment. She maintained concentration on the things that she was able to control and stayed motivated and confident; she gave everything she had in both of her races.

I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to Megan about these races and what it takes not only to be an Olympian, but a world-class rower. Megan Kalmoe’s incredible physical strength is admirable, and her confidence, motivation, and drive are techniques that I want to use in my own races at the collegiate level. Sport Psychology has been beneficial to me as an athlete by allowing me to strengthen the mental skills that are involved with techniques such as maintaining focus and visualization. Strengthening these mental skills is useful to Olympians like Megan Kalmoe, and can be used at any sport or performance level to give athletes a mental edge and competitive advantage.

On July 1st, 2014, at arguably the greatest venue in all of tennis, two men stepped onto Centre Court at Wimbledon. One of these men proceeded to hit 37 aces, a total of 70 winners, and won in four sets. The other was Rafael Nadal. In what has already been proclaimed one of the biggest upsets in recent tennis history, 19-year-old wildcard Nick Kyrgios defeated Rafael Nadal in just the quarterfinals of the tournament. The win was no fluke, either–Kyrgios won with authority.

Dominating nearly the whole match, Kyrgios set the tone early, opening the first game with an ace. He would ride his nearly untouchable serve, breaching 122 mph at times, all the way through the match until he fittingly ended the game on another ace that seemed all too familiar to the first. And it was not as though Nadal played poorly or rolled over for Krygios to come storming through. While he had some tough shots that created opportunities for Krygios, the story of the day was Krygios’ talent rather than Nadal’s implosion.

Motivated, he said, primarily by the doubt his mother expressed prior to the match’s start, Kyrgios played the whole match with one purpose: enjoy the game. Smiling throughout nearly the whole competition, and even sprinkling happy dances in after particularly important points, Kyrgios had the positive mindset, self-concept, and confidence necessary to accomplish something pretty special. On July 1st, that just so happened to mean defeating the world’s #1 seed, despite sitting at #144 himself.

Nadal was not the only man to see his Wimbledon hopes come to a halt uncharacteristically early. Defending champion Andy Murray, the #3 seed of the tournament, lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. And while the result for the two tennis greats was the same, seeing the early exit, the circumstances of their losses were quite different.

Simply put: Nadal was outplayed. Kyrgios did what he needed to in order to win. Murray, on the other hand, was guilty of blunder after blunder before succumbing to Dimitrov in straight sets. Finishing the game with a pair of double-faults, Murray appeared to be a shadow of his former self–certainly nothing like the man who had surged past Novak Djokovic in the final the year before. Murray’s body language gave away the true story of the match. Fighting added pains from a back surgery in September of 2013, Murray was down on himself and his abilities from the start. Never once did he seem confident in what he was doing. While he never said outright if something in particular was bothering him–or what it was–he seemed to be waging an inner-war against his own thoughts and confidence, taking himself away from what was happening on the court. This culminated in him collapsing disconsolately into his chair following the match. He rose minutes later only to pay his respects to his hometown fans.

What is there to takeaway then, from these two matches? There seems to be one clear theme: how big a role the mental game can play. We saw it at its best as Kyrgios fought his way to the match of his life, mentally strong and confident through and through. We also saw it at its worst, with Murray collapsing in under the pressure of his own thoughts and ruminations, paving the way for his defeat.

So no matter the stage–Wimbledon or your local tennis courts–keep in mind how significant mental strength is and the impact that it can have on your performance. Practice it each and every day, giving it the same kind of attention you would your physical training. Work to maintain your focus on the task at hand while playing, staying positive each and every step along the way. You never know what might happen. Maybe you will be the next big star breaking onto the scene.



Al-Samarrai, R. (2014, July 1). Rafael Nadal sensationally knocked out by Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios in Wimbledon 2014 fourth round. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-2676959/Rafael-Nadal-sensationally-knocked-Australian-teenager-Nick-Kyrgios-Wimbledon-fourth-round.html

Andy Murray Loses Wimbledon 2014 Quarter-Final To Grigor Dimitrov. (2014, July 2). The Huffington Post UK. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/02/wimbledon-andy-murray-loses_n_5551383.html


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.