“FOCUS!” Who hasn’t been told that they need to focus more or concentrate more? “Maybe if you just focus a little bit harder, you’ll be able to get it done…”
That’s all fine and good, but here’s my question: Focus on WHAT? I said this to myself so many times as a young athlete trying to learn a new skill. I remember saying to myself, “OK, awesome. Focus. What does that mean? Focus on what? My breathing? My body? My positioning?” I’d get so lost in trying to figure out what I should be focusing on that I eventually found I wasn’t focusing on anything at all. I was going through the motions, and I was frustrated.
For athletes, playing any sport means you’re taking on some level of risk. Which inherently means there are things that you know are not in your control. For example, you can’t control what the other people on the ice do or say. You can’t control what your coach is going to tell you in between shifts. You can’t control if you caught a funny edge, fall awkwardly, and sustain an injury.
With all of these things that are not in the athlete’s control, how do elite athletes show up and focus on things that help them feel capable and empowered instead of nervous and fearful? This is something that all of the top athletes, no matter their sport, have to learn how to do because it allows them to access their most resourceful state and enter into peak performance mode.
I see this so much when watching gymnasts compete. This is a sport where so much can go wrong—and if anything does go wrong, the consequences can be grave. But before almost every routine, before the beginning of any major trick, I look to see what the athlete does. More often than not, there’s a big, steadying breath, followed by a moment where they close their eyes, and another deep breath. Then, their eyes shoot open, laser-focused on a spot in front of them, and they throw their trick.
Most elite athletes learn how to turn their focus onto the things they can control. For example, their breath or their mental rehearsal of something they’ve attempted thousands of times. This gives the athlete to enter into a mental state that says, “Greenlight, GO!” and floods their mind with proof and evidence about their ability to complete the task which translates into two crucial pieces of the recipe; confidence and clarity. The athlete knows exactly what to do at each step and they know that they can get it done.