Focus is a big buzzword today in everything. Because of the infinite number of distractions around us, including advancements in technology, our attention spans seem to be shrinking to the point where it is difficult for people to keep their minds on a task for more than a few seconds.
I really became interested in the idea of focus while reflecting on my professional golf career and realizing that I struggled with focus and keeping my mind and energy centered on my plan to win professional tournaments. I found that my emotions would knock me off my focus (emotions gone wild) and hurt my chances of being a consistent contender. Negative emotions like frustration and anger wreaked havoc and often kept my focus on the past, exactly where I didn’t want it. The real competition was always inside of me. You might know the feeling — make a mistake on the ice or have a bad shift and you can find it difficult to get your mind back in the game and create the right internal environment to play well in the rest of the game or show your potential on the ice. Some call it being “frazzled”.
Dan Goleman, author of Focus:The Hidden Driver of Excellence explains that we’re also prone to emotions driving focus when our minds are wandering, when we are distracted or when we have information overload — or all three. Think about how this might apply to you in a typical game.
Sidney Crosby knows the benefits of working on his mental/emotional skills – and the importance of the right focus. Crosby is always the target of other teams. They know if they can slow down Sidney, and throw him off of his game, they can slow down the Penguins. Crosby is aware and has his focus in the right place – “for me, I’ve learned that the best thing to focus on is the team you play for and yourself… and what you need to specifically do on the ice.”
Emotions out of the rink impacts performance in it.
Something that’s interesting when I work with high-level athlete clients, including hockey players: their focus is often muddled by events that have happened off of the ice, not on it. Something may have happened at home, or they are worried about something else in their lives that creates anxiety and hinders them from bringing full focus to the ice. For this reason, attention must be given to what’s going on off the ice. Those emotions must be acknowledged and expressed, helping to create a clear mind to focus on the task at hand — using your abilities on the ice.
What causes you to lose your focus?
Focus is certainly one of the keys to performance excellence. Many performance problems, including a lack of self-confidence, can be traced to problems in the area of focus. The more you lose your focus, the more difficult performance on the ice will be.
What causes you to lose focus on the ice? Could it be players on the other team, off the ice distractions, coaches yelling, too much emphasis on the outcome (the score of the game), unacceptable mistakes, a bad goal, a bad shift, unforced errors? Everyone is different — you might have other factors that impact your focus. As a little exercise, make a list of the things that can distract you in a game.
A few ideas to improve your focus.
We all know that functional practice is critical to great performance on the ice and in any sport. Part of your practice should be working on your mental/ emotional game, like the great players. Similar to skating skills, shooting skills or tactical work, time and effort is required to build your mental and emotional “muscles” and use all of your abilities.
Here are seven steps to help you build those muscles and improve your focus on the ice
- You must be aware of what’s going on outside of the rink emotionally so the negative energy doesn’t disrupt your focus in it. Express emotions created outside of the rink before you arrive in the rink.
- Construct a routine that works for you — simple, comfortable, reliable actions that put your mind on the task in training and when it counts. This creates consistency and predictability in your behavior and begins your process of performing on ice.
- If you find yourself drifting, bring yourself back to the center by asking yourself “where’s my focus.” This will create awareness and help you keep your mind on the task.
- Accept that there are things in hockey you can and can’t control. Identify what they are and only put focus on those things within your control. Consider this carefully and understand the difference.
- Consider a very short, quiet session each day focusing on your breath. In this mental fitness session, the more you catch your mind wandering off and bringing it back to concentrating on the breath, the more your concentration muscles strengthen.
- Eat high-protein, low-carb meals before practicing or playing. Carbs can cause quick crashes while proteins become brain fuel more slowly, providing a steady energy level helping to sustain focus.
- Focus declines quickly when you are tired, and there’s an epidemic of sleep deprivation. Enough sleep can make a difference and help keep your mind on the game.
Focus is a big area in your ability to play well on the ice and in everything you do. Get to know what allows you to be focused on important tasks. This will help you maximize your abilities and take advantage of all the work you do to become the player you’d like to be.