How to Stay Focused During Practice

When you’re at practice, are you fully at practice?

What I mean by this is, does your mind tend to drift at practice, and something deep within you knows you aren’t giving as much attention to what you’re doing as you probably should?

If that’s the case, you need to work on staying focused during practice. Because, if you want to compete at a high level, you have to train at an even higher level.

You can’t expect yourself to outperform the intensity you put forth during practice. In addition, you need to look at focusing during practice as not only a way to ensure you’re giving full effort, but also as a way to train your focus.

It’s not easy to be focused, especially with all the distractions you face that we’ll discuss in the next section. It’s equally difficult to focus during a game. Now, if you’re not training your ability to focus in practice, you won’t be highly skilled in controlling your attention during a game.

So being focused during practice goes beyond simply having a good practice. It’s another way you’re training a skill you need to play your best during competition.

In this article, you’ll learn the main distractions you face as an athlete, and a strategy you can use to stay focused during practice.

Main Distractions You Face as an Athlete

Being focused during a game or during practice isn’t easy. Within sports, there are many distractions present. Some are internal and some are external. But all are detrimental to your level of play if you fail to control your attention.

The reason it is good to identify the main distractions you face is that you can then be on the lookout for them.

If you don’t know that something is a distraction, you aren’t going to be as prepared against it when you notice it creep into your mind.

So, here are the main distractions you will face during practice.

Being focused during a game or during practice isn’t easy. Within sports, there are many distractions present. Some are internal and some are external. But all are detrimental to your level of play if you fail to control your attention.

Coaches and Teammates

It may seem odd that those who are supposed to help you turn out to be distractions. But the truth is, coaches and teammates can quickly cause you to lose focus.

Now, it’s not anything they’re doing, per se, that’s causing this. Rather, it’s your thoughts in relation to them that’s leading to the drop in focus.

An example I can give is an athlete I worked with who worried a lot about what her coach thought of her. She constantly looked in her direction, seeking to learn what she was thinking through the coach’s facial expressions.

This only caused the athlete to be less focused on what she was doing, because she was so focused on what the coach was thinking.

Your teammates can distract you when you compare yourself to them.

There was another athlete I worked with who constantly compared himself to his teammates and worried about how well or badly they were playing. This type of thinking only kept him from focusing on what he needed to be doing to get better.

Mistakes

It’s easy to get hung up on mistakes. But can you change what just happened? No. So why do you worry about it well after the mistake was made?

I see this a lot during games, but it also happens during practices.

If you make a mistake, this mistake can quickly take hold of your mind. It’s now difficult to let it go, and each action performed following the mistake is done so with fear or worry about not making the same mistake again.

Being distracted by mistakes happens a lot when you’re concerned about playing time.

I had this happen to me in college. I thought a lot about what my coaches thought of me and didn’t want to lose my starting spot. Therefore, I feared mistakes and let them distract me during practice due to insecurity.

Life Outside of Practice

Sports, no matter what level you’re at, are only one part of your life. You have outside responsibilities, relationships, and activities that are both important and distracting.

Let’s say you’re in college and you have a big test coming up. Admittedly, you haven’t studied as much as you probably should have, and so you’re starting to stress. Do you think it’s going to be easy to forget about the test and fully focus during practice? Probably not.

Or what if you just got into a fight with your girlfriend or boyfriend? Going into practice, you may carry the frustration or worrying stemming from that fight with you.

Life happens outside of your sport, and it can be a leading distractor to you during practice if you allow it to be.

Sports, no matter what level you’re at, are only one part of your life. You have outside responsibilities, relationships, and activities that are both important and distracting.

Unhelpful or Negative Thoughts

Anxious, fearful, doubtful, perfectionist, or any other unhelpful or negative thoughts you can think of will only distract you during practice.

These are those thoughts you have that, at the time, don’t seem in your control. It’s as though they happen to you, rather than you choosing what to think.

The reason unhelpful and negative thoughts distract you is due to the thought itself, along with the emotion it creates.

Let’s use anxious thoughts as an example. If you are thinking a lot about what may or may not happen, that will generate a feeling of anxiety. This feeling of anxiety is not comfortable and can become distracting the more you fixate on it.

Strategy to Stay Focused During Practice

To stay focused, you have to give yourself something to focus on. This needs to be more specific than simply saying, “Be focused on what you’re doing.” No, you need something clear where you can place your attention.

That is the first part of this strategy.

The second part involves what you can do when you notice your focus drifting off where it needs to be placed and onto one of the distractions outlined above.

Setting a Clear Focus Point for Practice

A tool I use with every athlete I work with is setting performance objectives. These are clear and specific targets for practice.

The reason performance objectives work to help center focus is because you now have something tangible to focus on. Instead of just attempting to be more present during practice, there is now a specific thing you are working on.

And that’s another reason they help so much. Performance objectives ensure you are practising deliberately. You have set an intent for what you want to work on that day.

A good example is from a football player I worked with. He plays running back and we were brainstorming areas of his game he could improve. One specific aspect was quickness. As we dug deeper, it involved getting better at his cuts.

So, one performance objective he used for a while was to focus on making better cuts during practice.

As a baseball player, I would often use an objective of watching the ball into my glove. Simple? Yes. But effective? Absolutely. It kept me focused on what I needed to be focused on during practice, while working to improve my fielding skills.

For yourself, think about some aspects of your game that could be improved. Then, for practices, make those your objectives. And as you go throughout training, keep reminding yourself to focus only on your objectives for that day.

The reason performance objectives work to help center focus is because you now have something tangible to focus on. Instead of just attempting to be more present during practice, there is now a specific thing you are working on.

Creating a Thought-Stopping Phrase

The second part of the strategy to stay focused during practice involves a single phrase. One that will attack any distracting thoughts that show their faces.

This is known as a thought-stopping phrase.

Now, for a thought-stopping phrase to be effective, you must first be able to notice when you are becoming distracted.

That’s why it’s helpful to know the main distractions you face. That way, when you notice yourself begin to think about that fight you and your partner just had, you quickly realize you’re becoming distracted.

Once you recognize that, you immediately begin repeating your though-stopping phrase. Doing so will work to let go of the distracting thought and recenter your attention back onto practice.

When creating your phrase, keep it simple and targeted towards the present moment. Here are a few examples you can use to help craft your own:

  • Stop and focus on what I’m doing.
  • Let it go, and remember my objective.
  • Be here.
  • Stay focused on what I’m doing.
  • Take a breath and recenter.

You want your statement to be easy to remember and lead your attention away from the distraction and back onto practice.

Final Thoughts

Staying focused throughout practice is not easy. But to play your best, you have to train with full attention. In addition, by working to stay focused during practice, you are making it easier for yourself to stay focused during games.

Now, to actually be focused during practice, you must provide yourself something to focus on. That’s where performance objectives come into play.

Then, you need something that will recenter your focus whenever you become distracted. That is why you must craft yourself a thought-stopping phrase.

These two steps create a powerful strategy for you as an athlete to stay focused during practice. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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