Focus Leads the Way

Focus – the ability to concentrate on a given subject – is a funny thing. (By the way, focus and concentration are used interchangeably.) I hear comments from coaches and parents in many sports telling their athletes things like – “You’re just not focusing.”, “Concentrate!”, “Focus!” Here is where they are all wrong – every last one of them. The athlete is concentrating! It just happens to be on the wrong thing or things!

Exhorting someone to concentrate doesn’t do much good if you or they do not know what to concentrate on. If I’m ready to serve in tennis I may be concentrating on how hot it is, or that I’m behind by two games or that my ranking is going to drop if I lose or that I have to avoid a double fault. None of these things are productive of course.. but I most certainly am focusing!

Sometimes we say things to runners like “don’t think about splits” or “don’t worry about them going out fast.” Not necessarily bad things, but it is only telling them what NOT to focus on.

We sometimes tell runners to “stay focused” in the race; so their mind doesn’t “wander”. Not a bad intent either, but it isn’t specific enough to actually act upon.

So, if you are going to urge someone to focus more or better here are some practical considerations.

  1. Identify both the relevant cues for your running as well as those that distract you. Be specific. Vagueness does not help.
  2. Use relevant cues you can control (versus uncontrollable elements) for the basis of your focus points.
  3. Use the relevant cues – depending on your running event, that might mean things like: listening to your foot-strike, relax your breathing, visually focusing on the back of your main competitor, it may mean split times.
  4. Agree with your athlete about any verbal cues you use. Use words or terms that have meaning and power to the athlete.
  5. Practice your “focus” in training. You won’t magically focus better by just “thinking up” relevant focal points during a race.
  6. Practice being able to refocus when things aren’t going your way. Focus is not static.

An important point needs to be made here. The ability to focus, like all other mental training techniques and skills, does not replace physical training. If you are out of shape, being able to focus will not suddenly make you beat someone who is in shape; and you will not set personal records if you have not trained appropriately for it. On the other hand, your ability to maintain appropriate focus may very well be the difference between breakthroughs you’ve only dreamed about!

If you want to know more about focusing, go to my website for a free e-book – Focus for Fitness.

And for personalized mindset and focus coaching, drop me a line, we’ll get your head in the right place – at work, at home or at play!

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About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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4 Responses to Focus Leads the Way

  1. jim says:

    once again…tried to read this…couldnt stay focused

  2. That’s ok, I couldn’t focus on your response.

    For all those out there reading comments by “jim”… this is my brother. I hate to admit it… but a damn good runner!

    Coach Dean

  3. kassy says:

    Hi Coach!

    I was surprised you have found me that quick ( pardon for not having to let you know I copied what you posted ) I truly enjoy your blog the moment I stumbled across here.

    There’s just so many helpful entries. Thanks Coach Dean. At least I’d be able to reference on something from someone and actually have someone to exchange correspondence with 😉

    Kudos! Thank you

  4. TriExpert says:

    Specificity. Accord. Training: turning mantra into movement.

    Flatly, first rate stuff, Dean.

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