What To Do If You Lose Focus During A Game

Eli Straw
What To Do If You Lose Focus During A Game

I was talking with an athlete recently who said he was struggling to remain focused during a game. This was interesting, because it helped me realize something about focus. It’s much easier to be focused at the beginning of a game than it is to retain that focus as the game progresses.

In this athlete’s case, he was using a pregame routine to get himself focused as he started the game. He would begin with clear focus and motivation, ready to perform. Trouble came as the game went on.

The more I thought about this, the more sense it made. When we begin a game, there is so much excitement around competing. The game is an open book, full of opportunity. We know that in order to play our best, we need to be fully focused.

So, a lot of effort is put forth to get ourselves into a focused state at the beginning of a game. But there are many distractions that pull at our attention as the game goes on.

For this reason, not only do you need to be able to get yourself focused to start a game, but also learn how to refocus your attention during a game.

"It’s much easier to be focused at the beginning of a game than it is to retain that focus as the game progresses."

What Causes You To Lose Focus

When an athlete has a difficult time focusing before a game, it usually has to do with outcome oriented thinking. This is where the mind is focused on the end result of the game, rather than the present moment.

Outcome oriented thinking takes on many different forms. You may be worrying about what others are thinking, the other team, how your confidence feels, or what your stats will look like if you play well or play poorly.

All of these are based on thoughts regarding the end result. This is very similar to what happens during a game, except the added distraction of being in the midst of competition is added to the mixture.

Before a game, you need to be focused on getting ready to perform. But during a game, you must be fully focused on performing the act itself. This requires you to have a whole other level of focus.

To be fully present and focused in the moment, you must drown out distractions and place your attention where you choose. Which is very difficult when faced with any of the distractions listed below.

External Distractions

During a game, what are the top external distractions that keep you from being focused? Maybe it’s a fan yelling in the stands, or another player who’s trash talking.

There are many different types of external distractions, but you can think of all of them as calling your attention away from where it needs to go.

External distractions will vary depending on the sport you play. For example, a golfer may become distracted by his opponents talking to one another while he’s lining up to make a put.

A basketball player on the other hand, will have to deal with the crowd yelling and banging on the bleachers as she bends her knees, preparing to take a foul shot.

No matter where the external distractions are coming from, you need to be aware of them and the impact they are having on your ability to focus during a game.

Making A Mistake

After a mistake, regrouping and recentering your focus is a tough task. There are countless thoughts flowing through your mind at these moments. Most of the thoughts are followed by very powerful negative emotions.

Let’s say you’re a baseball player and you play second base. There are runners on second and third, with two outs. The left handed hitter up to bat hits a routine ground ball right at you. You approach the ball, ready to make the play, but at the last second you misjudge it and it goes right between your legs.

The two runs score, the inning keeps going, and the negative thoughts begin racing through your mind. The pitcher steps back onto the rubber to face the next batter, yet, your mind is still focused on the mistake.

Over and over you keep replaying it, confused, frustrated, and desperately wishing you could turn back time and fix your mistake. You have now lost your focus, raising your chances of making another mistake as you move throughout the game.

"There are countless thoughts flowing through your mind at these moments. Most of the thoughts are followed by very powerful negative emotions."

Past Performances

Another way you can easily lose focus during a game is when the thought of a past performance creeps into your mind.

I often found this happen to myself during games when I would face a pitcher who I had played against before. Stepping into the batter's box, my mind wouldn’t be focused on that at bat or my approach, but rather the past times I’ve faced him.

This typically occurred when it was a pitcher who I’d struggled against. Losing my focus in these moments had me defeated before I even saw one pitch.

This can also occur when you find yourself in a familiar situation during a game. For example, if you’re a soccer player and you find yourself faced with a penalty kick, flashbacks to the past when you’ve choked in these moments may come into your mind.

As past performances (usually negative past performances) enter you mind during a game, this will easily pull at your attention leading to you losing focus.

Falling Behind

Outcome oriented thoughts are a leading cause of losing focus before a game. The same holds true during a game, especially when you find yourself falling behind.

The reason outcome oriented thoughts are so damaging to your focus is because your attention travels into the future. You are imagining an outcome without letting the process play out.

When you fall behind during a game, it’s hard not to focus on the outcome. You start to imagine how much time is left, and how well you need to play in order to recapture the lead. However, focusing on the outcome will only hurt your chances or getting back ahead.

Falling behind leads to lack of motivation and often feelings of hopelessness. This can be even more impactful if you’ve been in a losing pattern recently. The other team taking the lead can trigger thoughts such as, “Here we go again.”

The more you focus on the score and worry about whether or not you’ll win or lose, the more difficult it will be to remain fully focused during a game.

Your Stats

Worrying about your stats is another form of outcome oriented thinking. Admittedly, this was one of the main distractions that ruined my focus during college.

I was so caught up in my stats to a point where I feared them. Opening up our team's website to look at my stats put a knot in my stomach I can still feel to this day. It was because I judged how good I would feel about myself based on a stat line.

Now, I understand stats are important. But stats are one of those outcomes that just need to happen. They are a result which you shouldn’t worry about. Instead, your attention needs to be focused on the process that will generate the stats you want.

During a game, when you start to think about what your stats will look like, even if it’s about how they’ll look if you play well, this takes you out of the moment and eats at your focus.

"But stats are one of those outcomes that just need to happen. They are a result which you shouldn’t worry about."

Refocusing Yourself During A Game

Identifying the reason you lose focus during a game is important, as it provides you with much needed information. Now that you’re aware of the likely cause, it’s time to work on refocusing yourself during a game.

To do so, you need to understand what happens when you lose focus.

Every one of the distractions listed above are pulling at your attention. They are redirecting your focus out of the moment. But what is really going on? What does this loss in focus look like within your mind?

When we lose focus during a game, this is due to our mind becoming fixed on something else. Whether it’s the outcome, the score, what others are thinking, or even that obnoxious fan yelling from the stands.

Digging deeper, though, we realize it’s our thoughts we have in relation to these distractions which are really impacting our focus. This makes sense with outcome oriented thoughts such as how you’ll come back from behind and what your stats will look like.

But what about external distractions? Well, when your focus is distracted by something external, it’s still the thoughts you’re having about the distraction which are shifting your attention.

So, to refocus yourself, you need to figure out a way to stop the thoughts from happening.

Interrupting Your Thoughts

When you try to force a thought out of your mind you realize how difficult this is. The more you try not to think about it, the more you are in fact thinking that thought.

Instead, the way to stop these distracting thoughts from impeding your focus during a game is by interrupting them with different thoughts. Or in other words, substituting one thought for another.

To do so, you want to create a mantra for yourself. This will be a simple phrase you repeat, whenever you find yourself having trouble focusing.

The statement does not need to be complex (in fact the simpler the better). All you’re seeking to do is interrupt the distracting thoughts and remind yourself to refocus in the moment.

Here are a few sample statements to help when crafting your own:

  • “Stop, breathe, focus on the present moment.”
  • “Be here. I am focused on what I can control.”
  • “Focus and be present.”
  • “I am a focused player. I am present and ready to perform.”

Like I said, the statement you create for yourself shouldn’t be complicated. Your goal is to interrupt the distracting thoughts with a phrase you repeat to yourself over and over, that reminds you to refocus in the present moment.

By using a mantra when you find yourself distracted, you regain control and power over your focus during a game.

When you try to force a thought out of your mind you realize how difficult this is. The more you try not to think about it, the more you are in fact thinking that thought.

Final Thoughts

Having focus at the beginning of a game, while not always easy, is much easier than retaining that focus as the game goes on.

During competition there are many distractions that get in the way of you being fully focused. There are external distractions such as the fans, playing conditions, coaches, and players. And there are internal distractions such as the thoughts you have about the score or your stats.

All of these factors work against your ability to focus. But all of these distractions are simply thoughts you are having. By interrupting the thoughts, you regain control of your focus.

Create yourself a statement you can use during a game whenever you find yourself becoming distracted. Repeat the phrase over and over, interrupting the distracting thoughts and refocusing your attention.

If you find yourself stuck in a pattern of always losing focus during a game, then a more direct and personalized approach is needed. That’s where mental game coaching comes into play.

With our twelve week program, we will uncover the key mental game challenges leading to you losing focus, and work to build long term mental strength to help yourself stay fully focused throughout a game.

To learn more about mental game coaching, click here.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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