This article aims to equip the athlete with a range of psychological tools to develop a winning edge in most sporting situations.
The environmental alarm clock
I use this technique regularly with athletes that have problems with focus and control.
The environmental alarm clock is a tool that turns events that work against you into ones that work for you. Here are some of the typical situations that the environmental alarm clock can be used and applied to:
Losing your temper
Making a mistake
Distractions from the opposition
Bad calls from the referee
Distractions from the fans
The environmental alarm clock will help protect you from losing focus and control in almost any sporting circumstance.
Here are the steps to effectively applying the environmental alarm clock:
Identify the sporting event that works against you, causing you to lose your focus
Example: When I make mistake
Identify a constructive behaviour that you could engage in, immediately after the above event.
Example: Encourage team mates
Say out aloud 20 times ‘Every time X happens I will do Y’
Example: Every time I make a mistake I will encourage my team-mates’
Apply your intervention, and get into the habit of using it in training.
Example: After every mistake, make sure that instead of getting frustrated you are encouraging your team-mates.
The event that once worked against you has NOW become a reminder to engage in something constructive. In this example the reminder is to encourage your team-mates.
The technique sounds a little simplistic, but it is without doubt highly effective in making sure that your focus is always kept fixed on important events within the competitive arena.
Remember that you can set up multiple environmental alarm clocks to make sure that you maintain a tight focus on the important events within the competitive arena.
Motor redirection therapy
This is another useful tool that draws on the power of redirecting your mind away from potentially damaging experiences.
I would reserve this technique for coping with internal conflicts. Typical internal conflicts that are common in sport are:
Feelings of anxiety
Feelings of stress
Fear of failure
Feelings of apathy
Feelings of anger
The science behind this technique is that if you are focusing on negative internal feelings and then start engaging in motor responses, your physical actions override these emotion centres. Consequently you suppress your ability to feel bad.
If you are doing something else there is no room to feel bad
Try it out.
Think of something that makes you feel bad. Spend a few minutes to really make sure that you are associated with these feelings of negativity.
Now start jumping up and down on the spot, while clapping your hands for 30 seconds.
You are likely to find that any negative feelings soon evaporate as your motor responses take over.
The brain often struggles to multi-task. This is great example of how you can capitalise on this limitation.
Application to sport
Usually negative internal states occur in dressing room situations, or when there is a break in play. This is because when your not engaged in the physical actions of your sport you invite the opportunity to focus inwards and become consumed with negative emotions. As I have already stated common performance damaging emotions are anxiety, stress, and sometimes anger.
1. Identify the times (usually more than one) when you are most likely to become distracted by negative emotions.
In the dressing room before a big game
2. When you are in these situations keep yourself physically occupied. This will reduce your mind’s ability to dwell on negative emotions.
In the dressing room, I make sure that I talk to my coaches. I also do some dynamic stretching in order to keep my mind focused on physical actions.
Results: Engaging in physical actions prevents you from generating performance damaging emotions.
It is even used in the world of snooker.
A great example of the use of this technique comes from the world of snooker. If you notice that professional snooker players wiggle the fingers on their cueing hand before taking a shot. This small motor response has the effect of removing any residual feelings of tension before they play their shot.
For more information on cultivating match-winning focus follow this link.