Sports Psychology Focus Techniques

Learn sports psychology focus techniques that will help you refocus yourself during games

Your level of focus is directly tied to your success on the field or court.

If you lose focus easily, or focus on the wrong things, this can quickly result in you underperforming. You may even find yourself playing well in practices, but not games, simply do to poor focus come game time.

Knowing the importance of focus to your success as an athlete, what you want to do is first identify the top distractions you face, and then apply sports psychology focus techniques to strengthen your attention.

Top Distractions Sports Psychology Helps With

What would you say are the top distractions you face during a game? Are they more internal or external?

Now when thinking about distractions, think of anything that causes you to remove your attention from what you’re doing. Because when we’re talking about being focused during a game, that’s what it’s all about…being fully focused on what you’re doing.

So distractions will include anything that takes your attention off what you’re doing and away from the present moment.

Some of these may not even seem like distractions, such as thinking about a mistake you just made. But that’s a major distraction some athletes deal with.

Another example is worrying about what’s going to happen. Let’s say you’re about to shoot a free throw and you start to think about how much you don’t want to miss the shot. At that moment, you’ve lost your focus. Or at least misplaced it, I should say.

Now both of those examples I just gave are forms of internal distractions. The reason I like to explain them first is because they are often more difficult to notice than external distractions.

External distractions are in your face. They’re a coach yelling, poor field conditions, or obnoxious fans. They’re much easier to recognize.

But it’s important you’re able to notice both and understand the impact distractions are having on your focus during games.

So, here are some more examples of internal and external distractions during games…

Internal Distractions

  • Past mistakes
  • Negative thoughts
  • Worries about the future
  • Self-critical thoughts
  • Worrying about what other people are thinking.
  • Self-doubt
  • Thinking about the outcome (outcome-oriented thinking).
  • Anger or frustration

External Distractions

  • A yelling coach
  • Obnoxious fans
  • Bad calls from officials
  • Mistakes made by teammates
  • Poor weather conditions
  • An intimidating opponent
  • Your equipment
  • Annoying teammates

Both internal and external distractions are going to cause you to underperform, if you don’t learn how to refocus.

And that’s the thing…it’s okay to lose your focus during a game, in fact, it’s natural. But what you want to make sure of is that you’re able to recognize you’ve lost your focus and then apply sports psychology techniques to refocus yourself.

Sports Psychology Focus Techniques for Athletes

Now, there are two ways of approaching improving your focus as an athlete, and these sports psychology techniques I’m about to go over help with both.

The first includes techniques to refocus in the moment. This is when you’ve realized you’ve lost your focus during a game and need to quickly let go of the distractions and refocus on what you’re doing.

The second includes techniques to improve your focus over the long run. Making it more difficult for distractions to cause you to lose focus, and easier to refocus when you do become distracted.

So, let’s first start with some techniques you can use to refocus in the moment.

Techniques to Refocus in the Moment

There are two sports psychology focus techniques that work very well at getting you to refocus in the moment. One involves asking yourself a question, and the other is a statement you repeat to let go of the distraction and refocus.

Refocusing Question

Whether you’re distracted by something internal or external, it’s easy to get caught up in a train of unhelpful thoughts. Because even if the distraction is external, like a bad call for example, you will have a subsequent pattern of thinking that follows.

In addition, merely the act of focusing on the distraction is hurting you. But sometimes this is difficult to recognize in the moment. After the game you know it was a bad thing for you to focus on, but that doesn’t help much at that point.

What you need to do is recognize how hurtful it is then and there. Even more than that, you want to remember what is helpful (or important).

That’s where this question comes into play. If you notice that you’ve become distracted, simply ask yourself, What’s important now?

What this will do is remind you that whatever distraction you’re focused on is unhelpful, and it will redirect your focus onto the present. Since the present, and the task at hand, is what is important in that moment.

Using a Thought-Stopping Phrase

The other sports psychology focus technique for refocusing in the moment is a thought-stopping phrase. This is something you repeat to yourself to stop unhelpful thoughts.

A thought-stopping phrase works very well when the distractions you’re experiencing are internal.

For example, if you are thinking about a mistake you just made, you need to stop those thoughts, and refocus yourself on the present moment.

Or if you are worried about the future, maybe doing some outcome-oriented thinking, you need to stop those thoughts and focus on the present.

That’s what a thought-stopping phrase does: it stops unhelpful thoughts and refocuses you on the present.

When creating your own phrase, you want it to be short, punchy, and easy to remember.

Because you are going to have to apply the phrase during times when your thoughts are running out of control. Not exactly the easiest time to recite a long paragraph to yourself. But something short and simple will be easier to apply.

A great example of a thought-stopping phrase I’ve used with athletes is, Let it go, take a breath, focus on the next play.

It reminds you to let go of whatever is distracting you, helps you recenter by taking a deep breath, and then gets your mind refocused on the next play.

Strengthening Focus Long-Term

The next two sports psychology focus techniques will help you strengthen and improve your focus moving forward.

Once you have techniques in place to refocus in the moment, then you want to begin improving your focus moving forward. That way, distractions have less of an impact on you and it becomes easier for you to stay focused.

Both of the techniques I am about to go over require consistency. Think of them like weightlifting or performing drills to improve your mechanics. Change won’t happen overnight. But improvement will come over time if you remain consistent.

Training Focus With Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a great sports psychology focus technique because it trains your ability to keep your attention centered on the present moment.

And that’s what you want to have happen during games. You want to be completely focused on the task at hand.

But what mindfulness also helps strengthen is your ability to recognize when you have become distracted, and return your attention back onto what you want to be focused on.

To train focus using mindfulness, you want to decide on a certain amount of time each day to practice. A great amount to start with is 3-5 minutes.

Set yourself a timer for the amount of time chosen, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Take nice deep breaths.

Now, your mind is going to wander. You will start thinking about other things. That’s okay and part of the training. What you do is notice that you’re thinking about something else, and then bring your attention back onto your breath.

It is that act that is training your ability to notice when you’ve become distracted and refocus yourself.

But the act of focusing on your breath also trains and improves your ability to hold your attention in the present moment.

Here’s an article that goes into more detail on mindfulness meditation for athletes.

Setting Performance Objectives

Another long-term tool you can use is setting performance objectives. Performance objectives are cues or targets you set for yourself during games that are part of the process and in your control.

For example, an objective for a hitter in baseball might be to let the ball travel.

Another example is an objective for a tennis player to keep head still and move feet.

The point of performance objectives is that you give yourself something concrete to focus on that’s not the outcome. Because we know that one of the main internal distractions you face is outcome-oriented thinking.

So, the more you can focus on the process, the better.

Performance objectives help in the short-term by giving you something to focus on. But they also help over the long-term by training a more process-focused mindset.

That way, it will become more natural for you to focus on the process instead of the outcome.

Final Thoughts

Your level of focus is directly tied to your success on the field or court. But with all the internal and external distractions you face, staying focused is often difficult.

That’s where sports psychology focus techniques come into play. And there are two approaches you want to take: techniques for refocusing in the moment and techniques to strengthen your focus long-term.

To refocus in the moment, you can use a refocusing question and a thought-stopping phrase. And for long-term training, you want to be using mindfulness meditation and make sure you are setting performance objectives for games.

By using these sports psychology focus techniques, you will become a more focused player, leading to greater success on the field or court. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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