Most athletes who train to compete spend most of their time preparing for ideal situations. Well if you have been competing long enough you know that eventually you will hit a perfect storm. I’m not talking about where everything works out just as you expected. What I mean is you are going to experience the unexpected, challenging your ability to maintain focus during your event.

It is during these tough challenges when the best athlete truly wins. Let’s face it, optimal performance is easier during ideal conditions. When events begin to unravel, that is when all your skills need to come into play. The athlete with the strongest mental game skills will prevail when faced with adversity. So what do you need to do now in order to strengthen your mindset?

What distractions do you face in your sport?

  • Delayed starts due to weather conditions
  • Playing against strong competitors
  • Cheering from the sidelines
  • A bad call from the referee

And then there are the comments made in passing, previously performing poorly in similar circumstances, having an off day or equipment malfunctions.

Before you can correct something, it is important to understand what throws you off. Awareness of distractions is a good starting point. Once you recognize where you become unnerved, lose focus and feel distracted then we can begin to make corrections.

  • Mechanics – Some moves are so familiar you can do them in your sleep. Over-concentrating on the mechanical movements you already know actually slows you down. Your mind can’t think as quickly as your body can move. Thinking about the movements you’re familiar with is an indicator of low confidence.
  • Fatigue – Our body continually sends signals of pain and fatigue. If you are actually injured then pay attention and don’t do anything to cause further injury. Fatigue, however, is something else. Focusing on how tired you feel only magnifies the feeling of fatigue. So check in and decide if you are having a good pain from exerting yourself or a bad pain from injury. Pushing through fatigue builds confidence, expanding your potential.
  • Inner critic – Often the toughest competitor happens to be the critical thoughts going through your head. Battling the inner critic is energy draining. If you knew how much time you spent on negativity each day, you would be amazed.
  • Past, present or future – Dwelling on the past or anticipating the future are distractions. It is impossible to undo what has already been done. Trying to be a fortuneteller often works against you. How often have you worried about something in the future? Either it led to a self-fulfilling prophecy or it was a lot of angst for something which never happened. Remaining in the present is the primary state of mind for optimal results.
  • Sight and sound – Visual distractions are powerful. Your eyes are hard at work taking in an overwhelming amount of information. Much of what you see distracts you from being in the moment. Then there is the noise. The crowd or a passing comment can easily distract your focus from the task at hand.

Instead of continuing to be distracted by external factors, or your own spin on things, decide now is the time to toughen up.

Research has proven maintaining focus, regardless of the distractions, is a proven indicator of success. Train your mental game for a strong mindset, along with your physical training program for maximum results. Your hardiness, the ability to withstand unexpected challenges, is measurable. A strong commitment, self-control and optimal challenge combine to strengthen your mental toughness.

Challenge: Which of these distractions do you struggle with most? Choose to turn things around. Awareness of the distractions you face when competing is the first step. What were the thoughts, sights, sounds or other conditions which distract you the most?

Highlight the top 3, rank from 1 to 3. Beginning with #1, what are all the ways you can overcome that distraction? Pick the strategy which is easiest and will give results, even if it just moves the needle slightly in your favor that is a beginning. When will you begin? Set a date to try it out. Work your way down the list from 1 to 3.