It’s easy to get distracted during a competition (Oh look, a bird in the sky and, woah, who’s that hot girl on the sideline?) but that’s how performance drops and matches are lost. Keep up your concentration—and your game—with these easy tricks: Get a routine: Create a cue that tells your brain I’m playing sports now. “This will delineate when you’re on and when you’re off,” says sports psychologist Dr. William Wiener. When basketball players slap the court’s floor, they’re not just being barbaric, they’re setting the clock in their head and they officially know it’s game-time. Refresh your mind: “People lose focus because they try to focus too hard for too long,” says Dr. John F Murray, a clinical and sports psychologist and author of the Mental Performance Index. Build in a mini break when you start to notice your mind wandering. Take a deep breath and go to a beach in your mind for a few seconds between plays. Then, as fast as you left, get back to the game. Know your cues: “Identify the important ‘focal cues’ for your sport,” begins Dr. Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist and founder of Peak Performance Sports in Orlando, Florida. These are the thoughts, images, feelings and targets that you need to focus on. Once you’ve identified them, you’ll recognize them as signs that it’s time to focus. “Also, identify the distractions you should not be focusing on.” In order to tune out distractions, you must be able to recognize them in the first place. Just go with it: Don’t over-think what you’re doing. “Once you question yourself, you bring yourself out of the zone,” warns clinical health psychologist Dr. Jayme Albin. Focus on the next physical goal and break the game down into parts. Maybe you want to beat the other guys down the court? Do that and then think about what you need to do next. Focusing on achieving these mini goals will keep your head in the game. Practice: You need to focus throughout your day—not just on the field. (Have you ever driven to your destination only to park and realize you don’t really remember getting there? Or sat through an entire meeting at work without taking a single note?) Your mind works the same on and off the field. Follow Albin’s advice and set the mini goals—but do it throughout your day and practice keeping your head grounded. The more you work at it, the easier it will become. Challenge yourself: When kids aren’t challenged in school, they lose focus and act up. The same thing can happen with adults. “You reach a point where you need to move up to the next level,” says Dr. Michael Fraser, a clinical psychologist and chief of staff at Behavioral Associates in New York City. If you can’t seem to stay focused, it may be time to reevaluate your league—you may be ready to play with the big kids.
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