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Coach Paul's Corner
Mental Exercises

Visualization Exercise For Improving Focus

1. Sit back, get into a comfortable position and close your eyes.
2. Think of a particular skill in your sport.
3. Imagine yourself performing that skill.|
4. Focus externally on developing a clear and detailed image of yourself performing the skill.
5. Focus on the sounds you might hear as you perform the skill.
6. Focus internally on the sensations or feelings as you perform the skill.
7. Finally, once you have a clear image of yourself performing and feeling the skill, choose an external cue to focus on and which is associated with the outcome of the skill.

For example, choose the back of the rim of a basketball net, the bottom right or left corner of the soccer net, the bull's-eye on a target, the mitt of the catcher.
As you perform the skill in your mind's eye, shift your focus to this external cue as you perform the skill.

Shuttling (Internal- External Concentration)

1. Participants are instructed to choose a partner.
2. The person who goes first must close his/her eyes, tune in to some sensation, feeling, or thought, and say something like "Now I am aware of a pain in my leg," "Now I am aware of my breathing," or "Now I am feeling silly."
3. Then, the person opens his/her eyes and says "Now I am aware of . . .," adding something that is happening outside himself or herself. For instance, he/she says "Now I am aware of the sunlight" or "Now I am aware of your eyes."
4. Repeat the process - first an inside statement, then an outside one - for a few minutes without a break. If the person gets stuck, the partner should help out by asking "Now I am aware of . . .?"
5. The partner does the concentration exercise.
6. Later, the exercise is repeated with the eyes open all the time.

Note: This exercise on shuttling is based on Syer & Connolly, 1984.

Debrief: The ability to shuttle between internal and external focus is necessary in games such as football where a quarterback must focus on a set of broad external cues e.g. the game unfolding in front of him/her, shift to a narrow external cue (e.g. running pattern of the receiver, and shift to internal focus in deciding on how and when to throw the ball.)

Recognizing, Stopping And Replacing Thoughts

1. Sit quietly, close your eyes, relax, and recall any situation that evokes negative thoughts that have affected your sport performance.
2. Sense the feelings and actions that accompany these thoughts.
3. Think "stop/, and immediately replace negative thoughts with more appropriate ones. Sense the feelings and actions accompanying these thoughts.
4. Think about how the feelings and actions differed and how this experience relates to the competitive situation.
5. Record your responses in the chart on the next page.

Positive Self- Talk And Thought-Stopping For Improving Focus
Key points:

1. Negative thoughts (e.g. "I may lose this game because...") are distracters of performance that decrease the ability to concentrate and to focus on important environmental cues.
2. To become aware of negative thoughts the athlete must first recognize their existence. They may be very rapid and automatic. Personal awareness of these thoughts and of their nature is very important in order to stop and replace them.
3. You may ask the athletes to 'listen' to their internal thoughts the next time they have performance-related anxiety, and to record them.

o What are the thoughts?
o Under what conditions do they typically occur?
o How do these thoughts make you feel?

Methods For Improving Focus

Athletes need to learn the following basic skills in order to focus effectively during practice and competition:

1. Concentration - learning to concentrate for a period of time on a particular object or cue.
2. Shuttling - learning to shuttle between internal and external focus
3. Managing distracters - recognizing distracters to focus, and learning to 'tune them out.'

Athletes can also use visualization, positive self-talk, and thought stopping to improve focus. A series of sample activities that can be used to improve focus are presented below and in the following pages. Coaches and athletes often find it relatively easy to adapt these activities, and to create their own activities to improve focus.
Note: In order to avoid lengthy descriptions, some of the activities presented in the following pages are outlined as though you were leading a group of athletes through them, while others are described as though you were an observer.

Managing Distracters And Focusing On Relevant Cues: Focus On The Clock Face

1. Focus on the clock face and click your fingers every 5 seconds
2. Now click your fingers at 5, 10, 15, 5, 10, 15
3. Now try to maintain your focus and the finger clicking sequence while faced with a distracting sound such as:
o hand clapping by others around you
o hand clapping and foot stamping by others around you (increased distractions)
Debrief:
4. Athletes rarely have the luxury of entirely controlling all elements of their environment.
5. There are always distracters of one type or another.
6. Some distractions occur naturally, others are deliberate e.g. on the part of opposition or Spectators.
7. Recognizing and managing these distracters is a key to perform successfully.

Learning To Focus On Cues In The Environment

Baseball exercise

Phase 1 - The performer has a tennis ball and stands in front of a group; he or she is instructed to throw the ball to the person with one hand in the air. This person has previously been designated by the coach or the members of the group, but the performer does not know who he or she is. On command by the coach, all group members but one throw both hands in the air. The performer must throw the ball to the individual with one hand in the air.

Phase 2 - Repeat the exercise - this time one person puts both hands in the air but with thumbs tucked in. All other group members also have both arms in the air, their hands are open and facing the performer, and they sway their arms backwards, forwards and side to side slowly. The person instructed to keep thumbs tucked into hands also sways his or her arms slowly. The performer is instructed to throw the ball to the odd person out, but no cue is given with regard to the nature of the 'difference.'

Debrief: Discuss the conditions under which the person throwing the ball had to perform. Highlight the impact of visual distracters and looking for important cues in the environment to make performance decisions.

Also check out the Mental Conditioning Section
 
 
 

 

 


 
   
Revised April 1, 2010
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