A common consultation in sports psychology, and also in my work with executives, is the “improvement of concentration.”
What is concentration?
A simple definition tells us that it is the ATTENTION sustained over time.
A few years ago, I had a case that I want to share today. A talented young high-performing athlete when faced with a specific situation significantly lowered his performance. Something that both he and his coach had already identified-diagnosed very clearly:
“…Every time I see my father sitting in the stadium, I start to fail, his mere presence deconcentrates me…”
And there was no doubt, the facts ratified it game after game. “When dad is not there I do well; but when he comes…”
They came up with a solution: His coach, with the consent of the young player, asked the passionate father to stop attending the competitions. Thus, avoiding his physical presence in his son’s matches. For the good of all!
What happened next?
It seemed to be working. The athlete’s performance, without the presence of his father, game by game was maintained at a high level. In spite of the deep sadness of that good man held at home; coach and player were satisfied. They thought there was finally a solution!, until… .
Something “new” happened.
A few weeks later the young athlete fell in love…, and his recent girlfriend decided to accompanying him to his games. The “old story” seemed to start repeating itself. Yes, once again:
“…When I see that she is in the stadium, I start to fail, I get deconcentrated…”
This time, the diagnosis and possible solution soon appeared: She would also have to stay at home and watch the game on TV.
What do we do now?… .
This was the question that the coach and the player asked me when we met the first time, after having described the details of this “story” that I share today.
Why do you think it can be useful for a professional tennis player to align his water bottles during the breaks between games; or for a basketball player to bounce the ball twice, take a deep breath and touch his chest before each foul shot; or for a soccer player to stare at the ball, and then look forward and listen to his positive internal dialogue before a penalty kick?
After a long and interesting conversation with them, they knew how to find the answer. And the keyword appeared:
In order to be able to sustain attention (concentrate), athletes need to define routines/steps that:
- They choose and design.
- They feel that it gives them a greater sense of control of a situation -CONFIDENCE-.
- They can always make depend on themselves.
In the case that I am sharing today, a very important part of the young athlete´s attention-focus was on something that did not depend on him – first his father, then his girlfriend …, and his list would have lengthened.
My job was to help him plan his own attention-focus model, his unique focus/routines/steps path created by himself.
Am I going to get deconcentrated again?…, he used to ask me.
“Yes you will, and several times per game…”, was my usual response. The difference will be that now you will have your own paradigm to help you redirect and return to your FOCUS. You will get out… but you will know where and how to return.
And so the competitions of this athlete continued; winning … and other times losing. But now without trying to fight and get rid of his “concentration problems”, he had instead learned to create and define his “points of attention.”
FOCUS…, on what depends on you.