The ability to concentrate is key to an athlete striving to reach peak performance. If two athletes have equal skill and ability, it is almost certain that the one who is able to best focus on the task at hand will be the one who prevails. Concentration means focusing attention on what you are doing regardless of external, and sometimes internal, distractions. Athletes who are skilled at concentrating have the ability to focus intensely on some things while blocking other things out.
Both external and internal distractions are an inevitable part of being an athlete. Examples of external distractions might be bad line calls, disrespectful opponents, bad weather, or loud crowds. Examples of internal distractions might be negative thoughts and chatter, dwelling on a mistake, or over thinking strategy.
The best athletes learn how to control their thoughts and focus their attention. They are able to concentrate on the present. There are several ways that athletes can learn to focus and concentrate:
Practice. If an athlete tends to lose focus when he is fatigued, he should arrange his practices so that he is fatigued. Then he must practice concentrating while being fatigued. If an athlete does not like being watched, he should practice while people watch. Most of all, athletes should approach practice as if it were the real thing. The game face should not be reserved for game day only. Every time an athlete goes out onto the court, field, or ice she should go out there focused and ready to perform.
Use pre-performance routines. These can be very subtle or extremely elaborate. Routines help increase concentration and focus because they help block out both internal and external distractions. The consistency a routine provides also helps the athlete perform consistently.
Relax. It is almost impossible to focus and concentrate if you are not relaxed. Stressed athletes have a hard time controlling their thoughts, which is imperative to concentration. Relaxation techniques will differ depending upon the athlete, but some ways of relaxing before a match or game include meditation, listening to music, or the above-mentioned pre-game rituals.
Use visualization and imagery. Athletes who use visualization and imagery feel more in control of their situations, and are therefore able to concentrate and focus. Imagine that you are in a distracting situation, then visualize yourself acting in a way that leads to a positive outcome. When faced with the situation it will feel familiar and you will be more confident that you can deal with it. This will help the athlete focus on the task at hand instead of being distracted by possible bad outcomes.
Use cues and triggers. These are effective tools in improving the ability to concentrate. Cues that are task-related help the athlete focus on exactly what they are doing and keep them in the present. For example, a tennis player having trouble with her forehand might use the cue "follow through" to get back on track.
Athletes who use these techniques to concentrate and focus will find themselves competing at peak performance.
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