I have been fortunate to work with a lot of coaches around the country, but one of the most interesting is a colleague who coaches biathlon in Alaska and works with the US Biathlon Team.
What is biathlon you ask? It is the sport of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. This coach spent a month with me last summer going through mental performance basics and building a plan for his athletes.
The sport lends itself to all kinds of mental challenges – fatigue, focus, emotional control, breathing proficiency, a necessity for precision…just to name a few.
I am amazed by the athletes (and coaches) in this sport, so when I get an email from Coach Wilson, I open it immediately. Last week, he sent me an email with a video link about focus. He knew it was up my alley since we have touched on a similar aspect of focus in the past.
The stats were so intriguing, I knew you would want to hear about them, too!
Here is the 30,000-foot view summary – OUR FOCUS MAKES A DIFFERENCE IN HOW WE PERFORM!
Shocking, I know!
However, did you know that in a study of people working out on a track, when walkers focus solely on the finish line, they got there 23% faster and reported that the race or experience was 17% less dreadful than those who were focused on the competition and other factors? (I don’t think dreadful was the word the researchers used, but you get the point 😊).
Controlling our focus, both visual and mental, changes the way we work AND the way we feel!
All the tools in our mental training toolbelt are so tightly connected. The idea of remaining focused on the finish line ties in controllables, perspective, self-control, self-awareness, and, of course, our ability to control our focus.
When we have talked about focus in the past, we have talked more about where our mind is, but this research reminds us that our ACTUAL FOCUS makes a difference, too!
Where our attention goes, so does our focus. Where our eyes go, so does our focus!
Since we can control both (no one tells our eyes to look somewhere without our permission) learning to gain control over our thoughts and what we actually look at can prove very useful.
To do this, we must have a plan AND we have to practice!
If you are running a marathon, it is impossible to stay focused on the finish line for hours, so an alternative target must be determined.
If you are at the plate and taking one pitch at a time, this is more realistic.
Both take discipline…and practice (that darn practice again!).
If we are in for the long haul, breaking things up into smaller segments – sometimes called “chunking” can be very useful. I break my morning workout into three 15-minute segments. I don’t always do only 15 minutes of one exercise or sequence but breaking up the workout makes me feel like I am making progress in the sometimes long and arduous 45-minute process. It is almost as if I am giving myself an out every 15 minutes just in case I don’t want to finish. But the fact is that I NEVER stop after the first or second 15-minute segment!
Similarly, when I was at CSU and ran our 10-lap track on those cold Cleveland days, knocking off those laps so quickly made the miles seem to clip by…if I didn’t lose count 😊.
This is where perspective comes into the equation.
Keeping an eye on the finish – whether the actual finish or the “first finish…then the next finish” makes the end seem closer. It keeps that non-productive chatter a little less intrusive and keeps us more present.
Whether we are “chunking” or keeping an eye on the finish which makes it seem closer, simply BELIEVING we can finish causes significant changes in our body function.
When we approach competition with the belief that we can accomplish our goals, these beliefs help our body prepare for battle. The anticipation of positive performance stimulates a rise in systolic blood pressure to support our muscles’ need for more oxygen.
Conversely, if we are distracted by non-productive thoughts or beliefs, our systolic blood pressure decreases…we don’t get as “pumped-up” or anatomically prepared because we don’t believe we can do it. Seems like a perfect storm for a self-fulfilling prophecy!
We know our focus makes a difference in how we think and act, but it also affects how our body responds. WOW!
How can we use this knowledge to our advantage?
Take some time to think about how you approach your performances. How do you focus on the “finish”? Do you have control over that aspect of your approach?
If not, make a plan. Can you see the actual finish – the pitch, the shot, the goal? Or do you need to set finish lines along the way?
Once you find your “finish line(s)” what is your focus strategy? Will you relieve past performances to enhance your belief in your ability to finish strong? Will you utilize a refocus routine or a mistake ritual of sorts? Will you use your reset word each time you feel yourself time traveling to the future or past?
Whatever techniques you use, you are sure to enhance your performance!
Lastly, this ability to focus on the finish can help us get that boost we need when we feel fatigued, need that last-minute push. Find that “narrow” finish line focus and dial it in! We then know the “end” is near…the end of the first 15-minutes to get us to the next or the end of the performance!
The world’s best performers use positive beliefs and images AND they are masters at changing their focus throughout competition to relieve tension, get a boost and stay motivated, no matter how long the “race” lasts!
This is not a fool-proof strategy. Nothing ever is because we are not perfect.
But we can control or focus and our beliefs…and use tools to keep them in check.
It takes some self-awareness, discipline AND practice!
Find your finish line…and get there faster and in a less dreadful manner 😊!
Have a great week!
P.S. Planning your mental training is as important as planning your competitive schedule. I would love to help your team increase its performance by teaching them the power of their minds. Give me a call or text at 234-206-0946 or send me an email at email@example.com