Focusing Within: A Mental Technique to Performing Pressure Free
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. This is because the subconscious area of the brain is in charge of an athletes learned motor skills. Motor skills such as hitting a baseball, making a putt, or serving a tennis ball require little to no thinking as long as the athlete has correctly practiced the skill over an extended period of time. This is often called "Muscle Memory". However, athletes are often reminded to think about what they are doing and how they will approach every situation. Conscious thinking then activates the frontal lobe which is responsible for higher learning such as solving a complex math equation. In the case of sports; however, the frontal lobe is rarely needed just before and during a task. Conscious thinking often causes the athlete to make mistakes in those moments because the conscious almost always overrides the subconscious. So how do athletes access more of their subconscious under pressure?
At SPMI athletes learn many different mental toughness techniques and professional routines to help them combat the act of over-thinking. One way athletes can access more of their subconscious under pressure is to simply focus on their own strengths. Too often, athletes focus outside of themselves, analyzing their opponents or teams strengths. This mental preparation is almost always a recipe for over-thinking and poor performance. The other mistake I often see is the athlete focusing too much on their opponent's weakness. Once again, the focus shifts outside the athlete, making it very difficult to not over-think.
Below are a few steps in how an athlete can start focusing more on their own performance.
1. Make a list of your strengths.
2. Visualize how you will use your strengths to perform to your best potential.
3. Write down different possible scenarios of how using your strengths will help you to reach your goal.
4. Verbalize Your Strengths - decide on 1 word (e.g., "Strengths") that helps you to stay focused on your strengths and practice repeating the word either out loud or in your head periodically during performance.
These tips can go a long way with hard work and deliberate practice. Just remember to stay patient when practicing these techniques and understand that thinking in wrong situations is a natural response of the mind.