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THE KEY TO MENTAL TOUGHNESS: The Ability to Concentrate and Focus, Part 2

By Enio Sacilotto on March 04, 2017

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In my last post, I looked deeper and defined what both concentration and focus are. Today, I’ll be breaking down three exercises that will help you improve your focus. Athletes who understand how to focus have the ability to achieve peak performances regardless of pressure. 

Exercise #1: Define Important Focal Points
Last time, I discussed the importance of identifying the key parts of your game that need to be attention. We also looked at identifying the distractions that prevent you from being your best. This exercise will help you determine what a focus point is and what a distraction is. You will quickly learn that you can basically draw a line right in the middle and clearly define both. This exercise will make it cut and dry for you. 

Our first task is to identity the “important stuff” (within your control) and the “unimportant stuff” (out of your control). Examples of the “important stuff” to focus on are: getting enough rest, eating well, having the right attitude and your job on the ice, such as, if you are a defensemen making the first pass and if you are a forward going to the net after your shot. Examples of “unimportant stuff” can be your reaction when you make a mistake, the referee making a bad call or the coach yelling at you. 

Write your thoughts in the column below, if there is not enough space take another sheet of paper and draw your line down the middle. 

What this exercise shows you is that your main concern needs to be focusing on the things you can control. Put your time and energy into the “stuff” where you can impact change through effort. 

Exercise #2: Create Concentration Cues
Train the mind, and the body will follow. Concentration cues are important because when you lose focus they can help bring you back to the present and help you re-focus on the task at hand. These “cues” or “statements” can be action words such as “move my feet” or instructional words such as “play the body” or “stick on puck.” They can also help you maintain emotional control, for example, you made a mistake or the ref made a bad call; “forget it and focus.” It is very important that you create your own concentration cue words and stay consistent with them. 

Here are a few guidelines: 

1)  The cue words need to be specific to your needs. Picture yourself in your mind’s eye performing your absolute best. What comes to mind? Write the words down. Take the time to do this exercise as the more believable and specific the cue words are, the more effective they will be. 

2)  Be positive. Focus on the behaviour you want rather than what you don’t want. If you need to use your cue words after a mistake, focusing on the negative behaviour is something you don’t want. Always think positive! 

3)  Keep your phrases short. Your word or statement is needed to re-focus, and in sports, refocusing needs to happen quickly. 

4)  Once you have established your key words you need to use them every time you are on the ice, including practice, games and even shinny with the boys. 

5)  Visualize yourself in one of your “unimportant stuff” situations, feel the emotion of upset, anger or whatever it is. Then use your cue words to bring yourself back, calm, focused and ready. Practice is so important in these situations. 

Use this chart as a guide to come up with your own cue words or phrases: 

Exercise #3: Stay in the Present
When you are in the heat of the battle, it is imperative that you stay in the present. You need not worry about the past (your last mistake, last game...) or the future (result of the game). You need to focus what you’re doing now. This, of course, is easier said than done. Keeping concentration is a two-part process: 

1) RECOGNIZE when your concentration drifts away.
2) RETURN quickly to bring your focus back to the now. 

Everyone loses their focus and concentration at one time or another, the key is to come back to the now quickly. 

The following is an exercise to develop your mental muscle: 

1)  Get yourself in a quiet room, relax, take a puck, sit about three feet away, pick a spot on the puck and focus on it. 

2)  Put all your attention on the puck. Use your breathing, inhale (feeling your breath) and exhale, as you exhale, use a cue word such as “puck,” “now” or “breath.” It doesn’t matter which word you use. Again, inhale, feel your breath and exhale, repeating your cue word, focusing on the spot on the puck. 

3)  Maintain your concentration and focus for as long as possible. This is very boring activity. You are inevitably going to drift off! 

4)  When you are aware that you are drifting off, bring yourself back to the now, refocusing on the puck. RECOGNIZE & RETURN – this is the key. Remember to breathe and say your cue word. 

5)  Do this about two minutes every day, your concentration will increase as you keep practicing. You will then be able to transfer this skill to game situations. 

Remember this is a skill. You take the time to practice your sport skills, you will work on your fitness and nutrition, and now make sure you work on your mental skills as well. 

These three exercises done on a regular basis will help you to be mentally strong when peak performances are needed under all different types of pressure. 

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By Enio Sacilotto| March 04, 2017
Categories:  Performance

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