The Super Bowl is here and everyone is watching the quarterbacks. As a sports psychologist, when I work with professional quarterbacks in football, I find the same type of mental preparedness for quarterbacks is what we all need to perform our best.
Success in your training and fitness requires total concentration, whether you are a novice trying to lose weight, or you're a lifelong athlete, or you're at the highest level of performance, like the Super Bowl quarterback.
If your mind begins to wander, you can easily become distracted and lose your edge. It is not only your performance that declines, but the quality of your experience as well. You cannot take pleasure in an activity when you are not fully present.
QUARTERBACK MINDSET FOR LIFE
Complete and undivided attention for the quarterback, and for all of us, is difficult to come by. As an athlete, you can easily become sidetracked by a myriad of external factors or the mind's thought processes.
Focusing is a challenge when there are numerous tasks to attend to (e.g., preparation for your fitness event, work responsibilities, family demands, children's needs, etc). You may have input from several different sources at once -- your coach, your training group, or your sports medicine doctor.
The challenge is to integrate all of this information, separate the important issues from the nonessentials, and make important decisions about your training. Knowing how to focus and being able to maintain concentration throughout the day is critical for athletes at any level.
PRESENT FOCUS THROUGH THE DISTRACTIONS
So what is the correct focus for you? This depends, of course, on the particular demands of each situation. There is no one right way to focus your attention. However, there is one vital principle: successful concentration depends upon a present-centered focus where you are totally connected to the task at hand.
A present-centered focus is one in which all your attention is directed to what is occurring at the present time. So, for the quarterback, he is focused on looking down the field for a receiver who's open to catch the ball. For you, in a race, for instance, your focus may be on the competitor in front of you, or on how your body is feeling, or the decisions you are making about this information.
Concentration is the learned skill of fully attending to the task at hand and excluding irrelevant external cues and internal distractions. Internal factors for athletes might include self-doubt, fears, expectations, or fatigue. External distractions for the Super Bowl quarterback might be avoiding contact with all those big, agile angry lineman on the defense coming at him.
For you the distraction may involve heavy traffic getting to your training or a competition, a rival competitor showing up unexpectedly, or sports equipment problems. You need to be able concentrate in spite of these disruptions. The true test comes when the amount of time you need to stay focused extends beyond your current abilities. That's where you mental training program comes in. Here's an exercise you can try to evaluate your focusing skills.
EXERCISE #1 - FOCUSING LIKE A QUARTERBACK
ASSESS YOUR FOCUSING ABILITY
Practice this exercise before beginning your training each day. Find a comfortable, quiet place where you will not be interrupted and take note of the time on your watch. Close your eyes and narrow your focus to one point -- your breathing. Notice your inhale and exhale. Continue this exercise for as long as you can sustain this focus. Once your mind begins to wander, open your eyes and notice the time on your watch. How much time passed since you started this task? Ten seconds? One minute?
Unfortunately, deep concentration is not as simple as it appears on the surface. The brain is not clearly programmed to stay in the present moment. The capability to assimilate large quantities of information can make it difficult to sustain attention on any one subject for long periods. Thoughts about the past or future can cry out for attention whenever you attempt to focus one subject.
The critical mind too often focuses on the mistakes and the "what ifs" -- what might have been and what should have occurred. You think about the training you should have done, or the critical move that was made too late in the competition, or the great shape you were in last year. Focusing on what could have happened will not change the past, but the present can suffer as a result of trying.
Now let's look at how quarterbacks tune in to the present moment during an optimal performance. In the Super Bowl, and throughout the playoff season, quarterbacks focus on the precise details of the event that allow them to respond optimally.
They often tell me they experience intense concentration on a small action -- catching the snap from the center, dropping back in the pocket, understanding what is happening on the field, finding just the right receiver to catch the ball, throwing the ball with velocity and accuracy. Great athletes notice, evaluate, and fine-tune their actions without emotion or judgment. Try this exercise to deepen your focusing ability.
EXERCISE #2 - FOCUSING LIKE A QUARTERBACK - Centering
Begin by doing deep abdominal breathing where you feel your belly rising and falling with each breath. As you inhale, imagine that your breath is carrying particles of concentration into your body. As you exhale, notice that all the distractions and stress are drifting away. The incoming breath is like a sedative that supplies you the peace you need to focus on the present.
You can experience this same single-minded focus and drive that you see in quarterbacks. Concentration is a learned skill that can improve with practice. The key is to recognize that good concentration is a constant vigil.
The mind is like a gypsy -- there will always be a certain amount of mind-drifting. But if you regularly work on your attention span, you can begin to take control of the most distracting situations.
As you sharpen your focus, you can experience the effortless stretching of the mind and body as you are totally immersed in the present. You will gain a keen sense of "the big picture," and be able to anticipate the correct moves to handle any training or racing situation that comes your way.
Sports Psychologist, Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter, from Stanford University Medical Center, is CEO of Performing Edge Coaching International Association, http://www.PerformingEdgeCoach.com a global resource and Certification Training Program for sports psychology coaches. She is founder of http://www.DrJoAnn.com the premiere sports psychology resource for athletes, coaches and sports parents. Dr. JoAnn, has 5 Olympic Gold Medalist clients, competing in the last 5 Olympic Games, and is a columnist for the Huffington Post and author of several books including the #1 national bestseller "Sports Psychology Coaching for Your Performing Edge" Dr. JoAnn has appeared on OPRAH, and NBC-TV Olympics, ABC Sports, CBS, and Fox News. She's a Stanford Performance Consultant, sports psychologist to OLYMPIC Gold Medalists and CEOs, and professional teams, and Winner of the San Francisco Marathon and 2nd in the World Championship Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. She was ranked #1 Triathlete in the U.S. by Triathlete Magazine. Complimentary Book Chapter and tips at http://www.PeakPerformancePlan.com.