Concentration in Sports

Simply put, concentration in sports is about mental effort. It’s where you direct your attention. It can be broad or narrow and can be placed on external or internal factors. In sport, there are many factors competing for athletes’ attention.

See the field. Read the defense. Think positive thoughts. Focus on your swing. Remember your mechanics. Know where you’re going with the ball.

It can be a lot to navigate. And then you’ve got the most helpful phrase in all of sports…with “you’re almost there” in running as a close second.

Yes. Just focus. Simple, right?

Parents, coaches, and other well-meaning individuals often shout out this seemingly useful phrase during competition. They’re probably right, but maybe not super helpful. The moment could likely use some concentration, but shouting the word doesn’t usually lead to actual focus. It probably sets off other mental chatter.

Sport psychologists often hear concerns from athletes like:

  • I lose my focus easily.
  • I can’t maintain my concentration.
  • After I make an error, I just keep replaying it in my mind.
  • Once the crowd gets in my head, it’s over.
  • I play great until I see a college recruiter in the stands.
  • When my coach yells during the game, it’s hard to refocus.

Components of Concentration in Sports

Concentration in sport falls under these categories:

  • Focusing on the relevant & letting the irrelevant go
  • Maintaining focus
  • Situation awareness – being able to “size up” the situation
  • Shifting focus when needed

Common concentration problems in sport (distractors):

  • Thinking about the past (last play, last game, a comment made before the game)
  • Thinking about the future (next game, after the game, how much media coverage you’ll get)
  • Focusing too much on mechanics
  • Fatigue – lack of sleep – not being properly fueled
  • Crowd noise
  • Opponent trash talking
  • Expectations (from self & others)

Improving Concentration in Sports

Strategies for improving concentration in sports address each of the components and can be used for all of the common distractors.

At Sterling Sport Mindset, we do a lot of work around concentration. It’s a key component of mental training and the complete mental game plan we develop with our athletes.

In or Out of Your Control: A great activity is to determine what is in or out of your control. This seems basic, but you’d be surprised by the insight that develops from this activity. Draw one large circle and one smaller circle within the larger one. In the outer circle, write all of the things you cannot control related to your sport. In the smaller circle (the one you want to focus on), write all of the things you have control over. Challenge yourself. Don’t stop at the obvious. Really get curious about all aspects of your sport: competition and training.

Refocus Routine: Once you know what you control, you’ll want a routine to help you focus on those aspects of your game. This is especially important when you find that your mind has wandered and you’ve lost your focus. Refocus routines are best when they have physical and mental components. A go-to phrase combined with a visual focal point and physical cue can help you clear an error or catch yourself when you’re thinking about something outside of the moment.

Practice Techniques: When you’re practicing, try to simulate game-like conditions. If you know you’re playing at a super loud stadium, it’s a good idea to practice by pumping in the crowd noise. Once you’ve practiced it, the noise won’t throw you off your game when it’s go-time. Along with simulating game-like conditions, you’ll want to to make your physical skills automatic. This is where the practice reps pay off. If you’ve done a drill a thousand times, chances are you’ll know what to do in the game. When your sport fundamentals are locked in, you don’t have to focus on them. This makes brain space for you to focus on the situation at hand.

Want to work on your focus? Let’s talk. We offer an initial consultation to all athletes.

A Concentration Side Note

Not to be distracting, but here’s a side note:

The concept of choking in sport is actually a concentration issue. It’s happens when we have a narrow, internal, negative focus that spirals down. Read more in about it in our performance anxiety section, because that’s where most people think of it. But now you know, it’s actually a concentration issue with a side of anxiety and negative self-talk.