Focusing is perhaps the most important and the most difficult mental strategy to master. Athletes are often told, “ JUST FOCUS,” but HOW do you do this?
Focusing is the ability to concentrate and perform in the moment irrespective of distractions. It is NOT about thinking about what happened in the past (last game or last shift), nor is it about thinking about the future (the next period or the end of the game).
It is about understanding that you cannot control the past BUT you can control what you want to learn from the past and apply this to the present moment.
FOCUSING is about playing in the “here and now” and controlling the controllable, your thoughts and your actions and always keeping a positive perspective. When you focus on the positives you make things happen.
When you lose focus you need to learn how to REFOCUS to bring your attention back to the present. There are three phases to this process:
Recognize, when your thoughts are wandering. You can be distracted by an emotion (you feel a great deal of pressure to score a goal), a bad call from the ref, a mistake you have just made (leading to a goal scored against you). These are all distractions that can make you lose focus.
Regroup & Release to quickly “eliminate”, “let go” or “park” a distraction. During this phase you need to have words or quick phrases to prompt you back to the present. An analogy would be a switch. Switch yourself back to the “on” position. Distractions can and should be reviewed later as part of the post game debrief.
Refocus to the task at hand: skating hard, making that crisp pass, back check, the face off, etc.
Write a list of things that distract you when you are on the ice (an opposing player’s remark, thinking about the third period when you are still in the second, doubting your abilities, feeling hungry, worrying that you have not had a great warm up, worrying about mistakes)
From this list identify which ones you can eliminate by being better prepared before the game (i.e. eating before a game eliminates hunger). Control the controllable.
Regroup & Release
Identify key words to help you let go of distractions (stop, switch, move on, press, focus)
You are back to the present and focusing on the task at hand.
Hockey is a game of speed. Practice your focusing and refocusing skills regularly. Use your practice time wisely.