Sport Psychology: Five Ways to Stay in Focus
In an earlier article I discussed aspects of the personality that can make the focus of competition challenging. Distraction, over thinking, and going blank can all have a dramatic effect on a competitive performance. Yet even when you have mastered your individual personality issues, there are many other ways our performance can be disrupted. Here are some further ideas to help you stay focused in competition.
First of all, recognize that top athletes are not born successful, they develop themselves through practice and hard work. The mental skill of retaining focus while under pressure is also a learned skill. The mind is like a muscle, it must be used and challenged to become stronger. Here are five more strategies to use when working on staying in focus:
- A very basic aspect of keeping your mind performing at its best is to pay attention to diet. If you skip meals or eat foods high in sugar it has a dramatic effect on the whole body, including the brain. The brain craves sugar, but if you eat an unbalanced meal that is too high in sugar, then on the rebound your blood sugar levels can drop too low. This creates a shaky, jittery feeling that can make mental focus very difficult. Try to eat natural, whole foods that have a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Learn what works best for your body and your metabolism. Everyone is a little different.
- When you find yourself in a challenging situation keep your emotions in check by reframing the situation as “exciting”, or “an opportunity”, or “a chance to practice under pressure”. If you immediately label the experience as frightening, threatening, or scary then you set yourself up for an instant rush of adrenaline and other hormones that can throw your mind into a tailspin. When we feel fear we produce a very different hormonal cocktail in our system than when we feel confident, or even curious.
- Catch any negative thoughts or words, and change them to a positive statement. If your horse is feeling fresh you might reframe that as “brilliant”. If the competition is tough than consider how you will be “inspired” to do your best. We all have an inner critic that tells us what we are doing wrong. Be careful to monitor your inner critic. You don’t have to believe everything it says!
- Look for opportunities to practice under pressure. Teach yourself to respond to a pressure situation with enjoyment, enthusiasm, challenge and fun. It takes practice to stay positive. Never lose hope, even when it appears that all is lost. There is nothing as inspiring as watching an athlete who refuses to give up.
- Find some kind of meaning behind your performance that goes beyond just winning. Whether you are trying to do the best for your horse, support a charity, or set an example of integrity, find a cause that inspires you beyond your personal desire for success. This inspiration will keep you adjusted and dedicated long beyond a simple desire to win.
Focus is a habit that must be developed both on and off the horse. How distracted are you as you go through life? Do you pay attention to how you drive, or eat, or interact with others? When you carry on a conversation do you truly listen, and carefully consider your words? Your ability to focus with the people in your life may be very closely related to the way you focus in your equine interactions. If you feel you could use some help in this area then feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions, I enjoy hearing from you!
Sport Psychology for Dressage
Concentration and Memorization
Warm-Up Arena Strategies
Visualization and Mental Rehearsal
Self-Judgment and Self-Criticism
Eight Rules to Win Your Dressage Test
Five Ways to Breathe for Performance
How to Beat Your Toughest Competitor