This article shares some of the tools which I have used successfully with my clients in all types of sport from snooker to football, golf to shooting. If you have ever under performed because you have been distracted then read on.
I would bet you a thousand pounds that over the weekend a premier league football manager will bemoan the fact that his team “lost concentration” and conceded a soft goal. This doesn’t help his team improve one jot when they think ‘but gaffer we were’ And they are right; they were paying attention, just not on the right thing.
It reminds me of the Morecombe and Wise Andre Previn sketch When a dumfounded Previn insists Eric is playing “all the wrong notes” Eric grabs him by hiscollar and snarls “I AM playing ALLthe RIGHTnotes – but not necessarily in the right order “.
Because at any given moment we are paying attention to something. When sports people are put off their game it is because they are focussing on the wrong things and they need a strategy to pull them back on track. It is only when they learn how to do this that they will develop the mental strength and confidence to perform to their full potential.
What the football manager needs to do is to direct his players where to place their attention. Only then will they cure these so called lapses .
Most of the people who I coach will have experienced feeling self conscious or put off by the crowd, the venue or their own inner turmoil at some point in their career. In the next two articles I am going to share some tools which will help you deal with the “being distracted “ syndrome
‘AS BIG ASGRAPEFRUIT’
Wimbledon champion Rod Laver described his focus as “seeing nothing but the ball”. He became oblivious to his opponents, score and crowd. He focussed narrowly on the ball which he saidbegan to look ‘as big as agrapefruit’.
I have also heard Ronnie O Sullivan talk of the pockets becoming bigger when he is totally focussed and in the zone. The pockets would be smaller if he was being distracted by the crowd. It is the same principle which makes the goal appear much bigger than it really isto the nervous penalty taker.
PEOPLE AND NOISES DISTRACTING YOU – External distractions
First of all rename these as “ distractions” . Anything that puts you off your performance is a distraction. That is all they are. They are normally out of your control and therefore not worth thinking about.
Next – label these people with a comedy name to reduce the emotional sting.. Some clients label them asthe “Interferers”. It dilutes their power and words have powerful impact on us good and bad. . You could use something like ‘the clowns’ or ‘the charlies’
Imagine the competition area as a huge photo/painting – with the interferers as comedy figures- who melt into the back ground as you start to play Again, this reduces their emotional impact.
The least attention you give them, the less they can distract you. Focus on what is important – your performance – YOUR NEXT SHOT-
HOW TO REALLY CONCENTRATE
To stop being distracted we need to concentrate more on the right things.
In the widely applauded sports psychology series “The Inner Game ” Galway highlights the error that players make.
“All that is needed to begin practising concentration is an object on which to focus your attention. In tennis the most convenient and practical object is the ball itself.
JUST LOOKING ISN’T ENOUGH
But it is not just absent mindedly looking at the ball, as he says “most players look at the ball or the general area around the ball but that isn’t meticulous enough.
In his Inner Game of Golf he directs golfers to focus on the tiny lettering on the golf ball. It is the detail which focusses the mind best.
An example fromthe snooker players I coach IS when they are having problems with getting distracted by people in the audience. My advice has been to find something specific on the table to focus on, you will be able to block out the distraction of the ‘clown ’ sitting in the crowd.
WHAT GALWAY’S NARROW FOCUS GIVES YOU
After a short time the player discovers that he is seeing the ball much better than when he was just ‘watching it ’generally.
Itworksbecause when you focus on the very small part of your focus object, this engrosses the mind more intensely.
Galway uses this concentration method not only to block out distractions externally, but also to diminish the internal distractions like the temptation to ‘try too hard and over think’ or the ‘paralysis by analysis’ or the critical inner voice.
“To the extent that the mind is preoccupied with the seams on the ball , it tends to not interfere with the natural movements of the body. “ It is also firmly based in the here and now which is where ‘the zone’ happens and we performs best.
This is something that takes practice as it may be challenging at first to focus on a single object for long periods of time. So you do have to be disciplined but it can be done. Gallway recommends viewing the ball from a stance of fascination . How can you apply this to your sport do you think?
PRACTICE WITH DISTRACTIONS – THE ENVIRONMENT
Another great tool is to have some practise sessions with as many distractions and interruptions as possible. Tiger Woods’ Father would throw golf balls, bags, make loud noises and do everything he could to distract the young Tiger. He even had a water pistol to fire at him. One Tiger’s early strengths was his steely power of concentration. His father helped him develop this by trying to put him off continually when he practised.
Soccer teams in the NFL pipe loud crowd noises and hostile crowds through speakers at very high decibels when they are practising. They learn to play through the noise. It is very effective. Again, canyou introduce this element into some of your practice sessions.
RANP UP THE PRESSURE IN PRACTICE
For the same reason it is beneficial to introduce as much competitive edge and pressure into practising. Studies on penalty taking show that inspite of being unable to replicate the degree of pressure involved in a penalty shoot out – those teams that had practised pens did better than those who hadn’t. A penalty kick is a something footballers could do with their eyes closed – until the pressure is ramped up. But having punishment for not scoring helped to prepare the players for the dreaded penalty shoot out.
Think about the conditions of the competition and how you can import these into parts of your practice routine.
PRACTICE SHOULD MIRROR THE COMPETITIONASCLOSELY AS POSSIBLE
Preparing in conditions which replicate the competition can be preferable to practising in a different environment. Some sports outfits even practise at night when they are having night games to prepare their mind and body for performing later.
It is also common sense that to fully prepare you need to experience playing for long periods of time if this is what you can be called upon to do. So for example snooker players would benefit from having some practice sessions at night and playing for match time periods to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the evening competitions.
Likewise for football teams who have evening games, why wouldn’t they factor into their preparation some evening sessions. We know what happened to the English team when they were faced with playing in hotter temperatures than they are used to in the World Cup and if they had had the practical means to spend longer preparing over seas then they would have been better able to cope with the conditions .
CASE STUDY EXAMPLE
One of my clients lost focus because there was a lot going on around her – conversations, music over the tannoy , the close physical presence of others. She improved by spending some of her practice time playing radio conversations and music through her headphones – as this was getting her used to performing with background noise.
The more people aroundyou – the more interuptions and commentaries present when you practice = the better prepared and able to focus you will become in the competition.
It has perplexed me for years that my teenagers are able to revise with loud music belting down their headphones. As usual they didn’t listen to my nagging“how can you concentrate with that going on”. Just as well as their results showed they can concentrate and did . How? Because they managed to block out the lyrics and concentrate on the written word. So ‘The Treaty of Versaille’ managed to push their rap and grime words into the background. My daughters were used to blockthem out through many hours of practise . You can do the same.
In Part Two I will show you ways to deal with internal distractions ie the nagging voice which makes you feel worseand will be concluding with my tried and tested Distraction Strategy. Keep practising !!!! Let's see which manage pr coach used the 'lost focus/concentration' reason too .