Staying Focused

Staying focused

This week, let’s move on to the next question from a team I am helping this year: How do you stay focused? 

I think this is often a question that leaves out something important. How do you stay focused 100 percent of the time? It’s unlikely that will ever happen, but you can find ways to recover your focus when you lose it.

Athletes’ minds drift in games or practice. That alone doesn’t impact performance. But we believe it means we don’t care — that there is something wrong with us.

Random thoughts will distract you no matter who you are. 

Things happen. Your bus breaks down on the way to a game. The weather sucks. You get stuck. Something personal happens. You are under a lot of stress.

We often try to eliminate distractions. It’s not necessarily a harmful practice, but you can get so wrapped up in an elimination agenda that you focus on things outside your control. 

There it is again — the elimination agenda. When we fail to eliminate random thoughts, we convict ourselves of being losers. The elimination agenda creeps in a lot to wreak havoc. There is wisdom in knowing when to abandon it, and when to play through the difficult circumstances or distractions.

An athlete once shared with me that in the days before a state championship game, the coaches said: “Don’t focus on the fact that the whole state will be against us.”  

Avoidance became their focus. The work to avoid became their preparation. They focused on something they couldn’t control. He believed it doomed them. They were dominated.

Usually, distractions and random thoughts pop up because we are bored, some things feel more important, or because we are uncomfortable. Our brains hook into thinking that more thinking will solve the problem. We forget it means that we’re human. We focus on the distraction to avoid the uncomfortable. 

When your focus is pulled to something random, there are a few quick strategies you can use.  

Before games or practice, create a routine for a mental clean-up. Remind yourself it’s safe to set whatever aside. Make a decision to do so. Use a mental imagery technique, like putting it in a safe and locking it away.

Attention is divided during a practice or game, and it’s unlikely you will come up with a solution anyway.

Use my rule of 90. If you can’t take action in the next 90 seconds to change it, set it down. Put it on a shelf.

Accept them. They are not a conviction. They are a part of being human.

Anchor yourself. Reboot. Focus on your five senses and notice what comes up.  

Try this exercise — a common mindfulness practice.

Write down your steps to refocus. Practice them. Build mental fitness.

If you’d like more information or resources, watch this video from a guy who wrote the book Indistractable.