How To Stay In The Moment During Competition

Staying in the moment is common advice to athletes. But how do you do this? Learn two ways to stay in the moment during competitions.

How many times has a coach or someone else told you to be in the moment during a competition? I can go on record saying I heard it more times than I can count. This seems to be the go-to advice for anyone seeking to help you perform better.

Sound advice it is, but here lies the problem: how do you actually stay in the moment? By the end of this article, you will know exactly what must be done in order for you to accomplish the state of being present.

What Does it Mean to Be in the Moment?

As with many pieces of advice, the meaning of staying in the moment can be quite vague. Such an exclamation was never followed with an explanation in my experience. I was often left wondering what this actually means?

How could I not be in the moment? I’m here, currently present at the game. Doesn’t that mean I’m in the moment? Well, whenever someone is telling us to be in the moment, they are not referring to something physical.

Rather, what is being discussed is a frame of mind. More specifically, where you place your focus.

When in the midst of the nerves, pressure, and adrenaline of competition your focus plays an integral part in performing your best.

To stay in the moment, you want to be completely focused on the task at hand. Where you place your attention matters because that is where your energy is directed. Coaches do not want players to have their minds in la-la land since their energy will not be fully given to the competition.

But you may think, as I used to, that letting your mind wander helps to reduce anxiety. If you are not so focused on your performance, then some pressure is removed. I would try to focus on something besides the game as a way to trick myself into not being so tense.

While this can seem like a good way to avoid nerves and does work to an extent, it is not the most optimal way to use focus and attention to better your performance.

Later on, we will talk about how occupying your mind with something to focus on is needed. But you need to be very deliberate in where you choose to place your attention.

Staying in the moment does not mean being consumed with the outcome of your performance. That is why distracting your mind is seen as a safe alternative. Being in the moment means immersing yourself in the task at hand.

If you are in the middle of a competition, this will never be the outcome or result. We are referring to focusing on the process. The outcome of a game is a result of many actions built throughout the competition.

Some of these will be of your doing, and many will not be. If you want to stay in the moment, your job is to focus solely on the tasks you are in control of, and give all of your attention to each one.

How Being Present Improves Your Performance

Knowing that in order to stay present you must focus completely on the task at hand, a natural question is, “How does this help my performance?”

There is a reason this statement has made permanent residence as a piece of advice given by coaches. It’s one of the best ways you can immediately improve your game. I know from my own play that no matter how much you work on your mechanics if you allow your mind to worry about the outcome, your performances will always fall short of your potential.

I would like to describe some of the main ways being present helps to improve your performance.

Improved Focus

The most immediate way staying in the moment boosts your performance is an increase in focus. When you bring all of your attention to the task at hand, you’re greatly elevating the amount of energy given to the act.

To perform optimally, you want to be fully immersed in the activity. When you steady your focus in the moment, you’ll be more aware of what you are doing. This awareness allows you to execute effectively and efficiently.

Less Distractions

As you get better at performing in the moment, distractions, both external and internal, will begin to fade away.

Internal distractions come from thoughts being placed in the past or future. You may be carrying the memory of a bad performance, or concerned about the outcome of the game. Both of these distract you and undermine your performance.

External distractions come from all sorts of areas. You can be distracted by your coaches, the opponent, fans, or sounds you hear. Similar to internal distractions, these harm your level of play.

By learning to perform in the moment, your attention will be removed from the external distractions and internal thoughts. This will lead to an increase in production.

Reduced Anxiety

From my own experience, the performance anxiety felt during a game was a direct result of wandering thoughts. These are along the lines of the distracting thoughts discussed above.

When the mind is consumed with concerns regarding the outcome of the competition, it’s easy to grow anxious. I would begin to worry mid-game about my stats, how my performance would be perceived by others, and what our team record would be if we win or lose.

This anxiety was incredibly distracting. Not to mention completely detrimental to my performance. By bringing focus and attention into the present moment, concerning yourself with only the task at hand, this sort of anxious thinking can be reduced.

Increased Relaxation

Being told to relax is another constant piece of advice given to athletes. Playing tense and uptight makes movements rigid and slows you down. So, you must seek to perform relaxed.

This can be difficult to do, especially in the nervous state competition often induces. But once again, feelings of being uptight are driven by where we place focus.

Bringing your attention into the present moment allows you to relax into the activity you are doing. Pressure to perform will be removed and what’s left is a calm, relaxed state where you can perform your best.

How to Stay in the Moment

Staying in the moment is a great mind frame to shoot for, though is often difficult to attain. The distractions that come from within us and from outside sources seem to deter every effort made to remain present.

What you must do is make staying in the moment a workable goal. This means creating a strategy that will allow you to reach this state of awareness.

Simply aiming to be present, from my own experience, is not a good enough strategy once competition hits. The influx of emotions that I would get made this an unattainable goal. So, to gain the ability to be in the moment, there are two strategies you want to focus on: training mindfulness and giving your mind something to focus on.

Training Mindfulness

When we ask ourselves to be in the moment, what we are really referring to is a state of mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined by being completely present in the moment. Sounds a lot like what we’re striving for doesn’t it?

That’s because mindfulness is the state you want to achieve when seeking to be in the moment. This will involve a deep awareness of the present, accompanied by your focus and attention fully given to what you’re doing.

One of the great benefits of labeling this state as mindfulness is the known training that can take place to increase your capacity to be mindful. Reaching this level of awareness is not something that happens overnight.

That is why your previous efforts to play in the moment likely left you feeling frustrated. Focusing on one task, without letting your mind wander, is difficult. But so are the other skills needed to perform well in your sport.

There is no difference between those skills and that of mindfulness. You need to begin training your ability to be mindful in order to use the skill effectively. Here is where mindfulness training comes into play.

To train mindfulness, there are a few different techniques you can employ. What I would like to do is discuss some of the best ways I have found for you to build mindfulness within yourself.

Mindfulness Meditation

Usually the go-to for anyone talking about ways to be more mindful, mindfulness meditation, is a fantastic way for you to gain the ability to stay in the moment during competition.

Now, don’t feel put off by the term meditation. I know it tends to seem scary or strange to people. But the fact is, meditation is a great way to build the skill of mindfulness. When I first began meditating, it was easy to become frustrated.

Most of the time I felt like I wasn’t doing it right, and half the time it seemed as if I was falling asleep. But, something inside me kept pushing me to continue. So I persevered and now can say I feel the benefits of the practice on a daily basis.

Meditation does not need to be complicated, especially mindfulness meditation. All you have to do is find yourself a quiet location, get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and breathe in and out in a rhythmic manner.

The mindfulness part comes into play in relation to your attention. You want to focus only on your breath. Feel as if you are observing yourself breathing (sounds weird, I know). As you feel your mind begin to wander, which it will, quickly return focus back to your breath. This is the practice of being mindful.

You are training your mind to focus on one object, which is your breath. The better you get, the longer you will be able to hold your attention.

Try not to get frustrated and remember, this is a practice. You will not be great at it at first, but the point is to work on developing your mindfulness skill over time.

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness meditation, you can check out an article in which I go into more detail on the subject here.

Mindful Jog/Walk

Another great way you can develop the skill of mindfulness involves going for a jog or taking a walk. Think of this as active meditation. When you jog or walk, the movement creates a rhythm. The repetitive nature of these movements is perfect for you to allow your mind to become mindful.

Once you’re in the middle of a run or a walk, there is not much thought that needs to happen. In fact, when I go on a run, the last thing I want to focus on is the running itself. These situations allow for the perfect opportunity to practice being mindful.

Much like with mindfulness meditation, you want to bring your awareness to your breathing. Focus on the natural, rhythmic breath that is taking place at the moment. As your mind wanders from your focus, return the attention as soon as you notice it change.

With each time you pull your focus back to your breath, you are training the ability of your mind to be in the present moment.

Mindful Tasks

The third way you can practice mindfulness is to think of typical tasks you do on a daily basis. You want these to be mundane, such as taking a shower or washing the dishes.

The beauty in this method lies in turning normally meaningless tasks into training mechanisms.

Let’s use washing the dishes as an example.

When you are washing the dishes, little thought is involved in the act. Once you learn the basics of scrubbing, there is not much more attention that needs to be paid. That gives you a perfect opportunity to be mindful.

What you can do is fully immerse yourself in the task. Bring all of your attention to the present moment, focusing on the act of washing dishes. As your mind wanders and tries to take you elsewhere, return your attention to what you’re doing.

With these three methods of training mindfulness, a pattern has emerged. You will start by focusing your attention in the moment, either on your breath or a task, then your mind will wander with you having to return focus.

This pattern is the process of being mindful. The more you do this, the better you will be at remaining in the moment in the midst of competition.

Give Your Mind a Focus Point

With the first strategy, we focused on ways you can build mindfulness so that you’ll be more prepared and able to stay in the moment. Now I would like to give you a strategy for actually staying in the moment during competition.

We discussed the ample amount of distractions present during a game. This pulls your focus in all different directions, from internal thoughts to external stimuli. This is because our minds crave something to latch onto.

To counteract this, you must begin to provide your mind with something useful to focus on. Your aim is to stay in the moment. This should be something that will help you accomplish that goal.

This is going to fall in line with the mindfulness training discussed above. You want to decide on something you can focus on that will bring your attention to the moment. Be careful with this, however, as you do not want it to end up distracting you.

For example, you could choose to focus on your breathing, or maybe the feeling of the wind if you are outside. In an arena, maybe pay attention to your own body. This is simply a way to give your mind something to focus on that will bring you into the moment.

Decide on what will be the best fit for you and then commit to focusing on that. Your mind will be brought into the present, and your body will be free to perform up to its potential.

Final Thoughts

Being in the present moment is a common goal of all performers. The more present you can be, the more natural and flowing your performance will become.

Mindfulness training allows you to practice the skill of centering your attention. With an abundance of distractions, you must find a way to control where you place focus.

Once the competition rolls around, you want to provide your mind with something to focus on that will help bring your attention into the moment.

The more you deliberately do this, the better you will become at staying in the moment.

How do you get yourself to be in the moment? Do you train mindfulness? I would love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below.

If you have any questions about staying in the moment or any other performance psychology topic, please feel free to reach out to me.

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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