Here are three exercises to help athletes avoid choking, being intimidated or getting psyched out and to become mentally tough by learning to improve their ability to concentrate.
Begin each exercise by sitting comfortably in a place that’s free from distractions. After gaining proficiency in your ability to concentrate, you can progressively add distractions. Allow five minutes for each exercise.
Exercise #1: Object Stare
“Place a medal, trophy, ball or any other object from your sport directly in front of you, pick a specific spot on the object and then in a relaxed manner, focus your attention on that spot. Study it carefully. As you keep your eyes on that spot, slowly repeat to yourself a word or phrase. That word or phrase will be your “concentration cue,” or reminder.
For example, you can use the words “gold,” “now,” or “smooth.” Quickly bring your focus back to your spot each and every time that you find yourself drifting. Next, close your eyes and try to get a visual image of the object and your spot. Continue to repeat your concentration cue to yourself as you do this.
Finally, pick the medal or object up and study it with your hands. Feel the texture of the surfaces, the corners and points, its temperature, the feel of raised writing if any, etc. As you do this, continue to repeat that cue to yourself.
Repeat this sequence (looking, imaging and feeling) for up to five minutes.
Exercise #2: Blocking Distraction
Sit close to your TV screen with the picture on and sound off.
Hold your thumb out against the screen and focus on the center of your thumbnail for 10 seconds. When you can do this without being distracted by the moving images, increase your time to 20 seconds. Repeat and build in 10-second increments.
When you can go a whole minute, turn the volume up and try to focus only on your thumb for 10 seconds without being distracted by the sound or images.
Continue to increase your time until you can go one-to-two minutes without losing your focus.
Exercise #3: Bring Yourself Back
This is the heart of concentration!
Focus your attention on your breathing as you inhale. With each exhalation switch your focus to the number “one”. You can repeat the sound to yourself or visualize the number one in your mind’s eye.
Inhale, focus on your breathing. Exhale, focus on the number one.
As soon as you feel your mind distracted or wandering, gently return to your focus by concentrating on your inhale.
As you exhale, focus now on the number two. With each distraction or realization that you are drifting, bring yourself back.
Repeat the exercise and increase the number you focus on by one each time.