An athlete's focus the day of competition often differs from other days. On non-competition days, many athletes are training hard, working on their weaknesses while strengthening their strengths. However, on competition days athletes may seem tenser, more serious, and in some cases, quieter. This time of readiness is one that many athletes take too seriously. Depending on the time of the event, athletes may separate themselves from their team, reflecting on their upcoming performance and isolating themselves from any distraction that could “harm” their focus and overall result.
In my work with athletes in over 30 sports at SPMI, I have found that at least 50% of wins and losses among athletes of similar levels are decided before the competition starts. The outcome of competition often depends on the mindset a.k.a belief system of an athlete. Athletes who struggle with maintaining a positive belief system also struggle with confidence. Without confidence, the athlete shuts down mentally and is never able to reach nor maintain their full potential because their mindset already decided the outcome of the competition.
One of the worst mental mistakes I see athletes make is focusing too much on the opposition. Often times, these athletes are reminded by their coaches and parents to be careful and to be ready for whoever they are up against. The problem with this mental preparation tactic is that focusing outside of oneself makes it highly difficult for the athlete to perform automatically. In sports, athletes need to rely mostly on their subconscious thoughts and clear the mind of any conscious thinking.
I'd like to introduce to everyone The Thinking Mind. It likes to show up on big occasions and crash the party. Perhaps, you have recognized its presence before a big game, during crucial moments of competition, or right after sudden unexpected changes in your environment. In life, the thinking mind may present itself in decisive moments such as right before a big test, losing a job, or engagement proposal. In war, the thinking mind presents itself more and more before soldiers are sent into war.
Although, there are numerous mistakes athlete's make that cause poor performance, the act of focusing on time is one of the most common and one of the most detrimental. Focusing on time applies to much more then what you currently read on your watch or on the home screen of your smartphone. Below are several of the most common time related concentration mistakes that athletes need to be aware of and work to remove from their focus during competition.
Top athletes all share one successful mental skill that separates them from the rest of the field, a highly skilled ability to control and shift their focus from internal to external and from external to internal during the right moments. At SPMI, athletes are taught how to properly shift their focus as well as how to maximize each type of focus for all moments of performance. Internal focus is based on the athlete’s cognitions or thoughts. Internal focus is best used by the athlete when learning a new skill or dealing with a new discovery.
One of the most common issues athletes face is the overwhelming pressure that they feel before and during competition. Along with this pressure comes a shift in focus and an often fragile state of confidence. Many athletes then look for ways to improve their mental performance by asking how they can improve their confidence, stay more relaxed, and quiet the mind (avoid over-thinking). But the problem with many athletes goes beyond just the mental skills that they have not learned or mastered.