A common frustration I hear from athletes and coaches is athletes “playing tight”, which means they aren’t playing to the level of their full potential. Can you identify? Do you ever feel that something gets in your way of being able to perform the way you know you can? One way to loosen up your play and performance is to make sure your focus is in the right time zone. Sometimes it can be easy to get stuck in the past thinking about what just happened. It is also common to be too concerned about the future, worrying about what will happen at the end of the game. However, the only thing that truly matters is what is happening in the present, right here, right now, as it is unfolding.
When focus is in the present, play gets loosened up for several reasons:
You increase the likelihood of being able to notice important information in the competition situation, and you will likely play more aggressively and have quicker reactions.
You have more attentional resources for the current task, increasing your ability to take more risks and see more possibilities for challenging your opponents.
You are better at noticing how your emotions, and how your body feels. This makes it easier to make adjustments so your execution stays consistent.
When athletes describe playing in the moment, they often say that performance feels easier and more fun. Things just flow. That sounds a lot better than playing tight, right?
How often is your focus in the present? How long do you continue to think about mistakes or bad calls? Do you find that you are distracted by thinking about what if you don’t make the next shot, or the end of the game? How does being focused in the past or the future take away from your intensity, execution, or enjoyment of your performance?
Now that you have a better idea of when is your focus..here are some tips for cultivating a more present moment focus:
Set process goals to keep your attention on technique, strategy and the task at hand. Staying committed to achieving process goals will keep you less concerned about mistakes (past focus) and the outcome of the competition (future focus).
Mindfully warm-up before your performance. Pay attention to the way your body feels as you stretch, describe to yourself what you are doing as you move, or mindfully walk around the gym or field.
When you notice you are “in your head” thinking about the past or future, you can reset to the present moment by using mindfulness. For example, for one breath cycle, notice the sensation of breathing, and say to yourself “breathing in, breathing out.” Or you can briefly turn your attention to what you can sense in the moment (hear, smell, feel, taste, see). Then redirect your attention to the task.
Increasing your ability to stay present moment focused takes practice. It is a skill that can be developed and practicing present moment focus outside of sport will help develop the skill to be used during performance.
Skill Building at Home:
Use mindfulness / meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm, 10% Happier, to help you with your practice. All have sport specific exercises available.
Another option is practicing yoga. As yoga pairs movement with breath, it is an active mindful practice.
Learn additional strategies in addition to mindfulness that cultivate opportunities to feel flow while performing. Read the book: The Mindful Athlete, Secrets to Pure Performance, by George Mumford.
There are lots of other ways to incorporate more practice easily within your day. For more ideas, contact me or come to a workshop!