Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

A Focus on Attention

Attention is complex and there is more to the process than the ability to simply “pay attention.” Focused and integrated attention requires the training and discipline that affords the simplicity of process at the point of performance. At any sporting event, you can hear someone on the sidelines (coach, friend, fan or parent) urge a competitor to “Focus!” The truth is the average attention span is less than 8 seconds and we can process only a small percentage of the sensory (internal and external) information presented each moment. So, where we place our focus and attention becomes more and more important and influential to performance.

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Competitive performance requires the self-awareness to focus on the critical elements of execution, and the ability to regulate and shift focus as required. And this is a dynamic process with many factors that test the limits of our abilities. Each event is singular by nature, therefore these abilities must be practiced beforehand.

First, to pay attention requires the clarity of purpose to filter out what doesn’t matter. Basically, three systems have to be in sync to make this happen:

  1. Activation Levels (Energy for the task)
  2. Emotional or Limbic centers (Meaning)
  3. Executive functions managing attention (Focus)

Each of these represents different areas of the brain that must be integrated towards a way of being in the moment, a state that allows one to perform in flow and the Zone of Optimal Performance.

Questions often help us to get to the source of what we can’t sense or feel. Considering the three areas represented above, try these questions to bring each of these centers into awareness.

  1. Do I have a sense of my level of energy (activation or arousal levels) while I am executing? Using a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) decide which number or range of numbers represents a good level for performing during a competition or practice. For example, someone standing over a 5-foot putt will have a different activation level (low arousal, alert) than a middle linebacker in football (high arousal, alert).
  2. Do I have a clear sense of meaning and purpose for practice and competition? Do I have goals that represent the vision I have for myself over time of what matters most?
  3. Do I practice focusing and refocusing both in practice and in isolation as a distinct skill set?

These questions clarify the key aspects of attention and focus. Make this important function of the mental game part of your daily routine.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Photo Credit: Created by Kjpargeter – Freepik.com

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Developing a Mindset for All Seasons

In the previous post, we talked about the foundation of a Comprehensive Mindset: Effort (What we give), Attitude (Where we are heading and Why), and Improvement (How we get there). In this post, we delve into the principles of developing a comprehensive mindset. These are the beliefs that underlie the intelligence fueling motivation toward growth and driving peak performance. These beliefs are a crucial aspect of our psychological structure, but they are also demanding and indicators of where you are on the path. In other words, do you find these beliefs to be self-reinforcing and motivating? If so, you are more likely to continue and gain both enjoyment and a sense of purpose from an activity that others find too difficult.

In my mind, the previous statement is the biggest point of separation between levels of play: what individuals and teams at one level find to be too consuming and challenging, others on a different level will find in the investment of time a sense of freedom and fulfillment.  If the latter is the case, you are in the space of flow and intrinsic motivation.

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Let’s take a brief look at each belief:

  • Motivated by the process of consistently executing at the highest level: The athlete has a vision of oneself performing at high levels; has been inspired by someone who has been a model of excellence for them.
  • Is growth-oriented (versus talent is fixed): Believes that talent is only a starting point, and that directed effort along with consistency over time are the keys to development.
  • Is driven by learning, experiencing, and reflecting: Believes that each day provides ample opportunities to develop in all areas of self (mind, body, spirit, and relationships).
  • Is self-aware and continually seeks to learn more about self: Believes in the importance of questioning assumptions and expanding the limits of one’s current level of perception.
  • Seeks consistent improvement: Sets short and long-term goals, and measures backward in time answering the question: Am I better in any way than I was a week ago?
  • Allows the body’s intelligence (unconscious competence) to respond in the moment: While consciously competent of why things work, the athlete allows the process of being present at the point of execution.
  • Understands adversity is part of competition and can manage it effectively: Has structures in place that allow for the inevitable challenges and unknowns that keep one in the mental space for optimal performance.
  • Focuses on what can be controlled in the moment: Understands the intersection of reality and expectations; does not resist what the situation presents; understands the point of greatest psychological leverage.

 

These 8 points can be experienced concretely in any aspect of the athlete’s journey. Whether it is planning, practice, play or post-experience reflection, these beliefs are a part of the overall equation. The more you bring these beliefs into the open, the more you will sense how they factor into your developmental arc. Practice and competition bring diverse experiences and many possible outcomes because of factors beyond your control. These 8 beliefs account for effectiveness and efficiency along that continuum of experience because they underlie execution at the point of performance.

Finally, the goal of the comprehensive mindset is excellence, not just in competition but in every facet of living. Note that excellence is a quality of being and doing (and is not perfection), and a commitment to the process of improvement. This creates an alignment in all your roles and activities that enable the highest level of integrity and synergy as an individual. While performance is benchmarked at each level of each sport, often the mindset of each level is not so transparent. These 8 points help to bring out in the open the drivers of the process. Improving and excelling require a mindset of growth and resilience, and must receive the same intensity of focus and attention as the development of physical skills. Make a plan today…

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Mindset (Part 2)

In the last post, we talked about two possible ways to consider mindset. If a competitor’s mindset is situational in terms of competing, then what could be the overarching mediator of this type of mindset? And is that a source of such contradictory behaviors on and off the field of play? Is this the source of inconsistency in events? Careers?

If you listen to coaching or teaching most of the content is on skill development and execution of strategy. In other words, there are distinct skills and a playbook for every sport. Then, how can similar skills and similar strategies produce such disparate outcomes? Is it talent? Temperament? There are many factors, but the question is: What is not happening?

black dart pink attach on yellow green and red dart board
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

 

A targeted and balanced approach to growth and development.

Two things are happening at every moment when it comes to learning to compete: the player’s development and the coach, mentor or teacher’s development. When most players are learning their sport they are far from independent and highly influenced by authority figures. This is a powerful source of mindset for at this stage young athletes are learning by observing, modeling, and the culture of the environment. And given that coaches can be at different developmental stages, four things can happen (for simplicity sake, we will use “coach” to describe whoever is guiding the competitor’s growth process):

  • The coach will be centered on their own program or personal needs and goals. Players are told what their goals should be both overtly and covertly.
  • The coach will teach what they have learned based in the organization (Academy, etc.) they represent or their own experiences of being coached.
  • The coach will teach based on a clearly defined coaching philosophy with the athlete’s individual goals and needs in mind.
  • The coach will see the developmental trajectory of a player as a process and adapt to the needs of the player in all developmental realms. The player is seen as a whole and unique individual.

The system the athlete learns in matters. A system that looks at only competence and not character and the interpersonal is to look at development as one-dimensional. This becomes the roots of a situational mindset, and performance and outcomes are often determined by its weakest link (such as the inability to adapt, handle pressure, etc.). Simply put, a comprehensive mindset does not compartmentalize experience, therefore every experience can be used to mature and learn.

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Mindset

Over the next few posts, I would like to bring the important concept of mindset into full view. It is a widely used term, but like many words, it may carry different meanings depending on who is speaking. Some have used the term along with high performance, mental toughness, and in the popular book by Carol Dweck, she proposes growth or fixed mindsets. There are also connections with mindset when self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-efficacy are discussed.

I’d like to offer a slightly different take based on research, clinical, and coaching experience. A good portion of this experience comes from listening to athletes process before, during, and after competitive events—from professional to amateur, as well as listening to parents talk to their sons and daughters. Language is connected to thinking, and for many, depending on developmental stage, language accurately reflects an individual’s mindset. In other words, what you say, the quality of your self-talk, and how you process experience will reflect so many aspects of mindset including locus of control, optimism, resilience, development, expectations, and belief systems.

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Speaking generally about mindset,  I would like to present one major idea to frame your thinking. Depending on the individual, either: 1) a mindset is a subset of a way of thinking and is situationalor 2) a mindset reflects the overall quality of thinking.  Regarding the former, psychology and language have a quality of labeling and compartmentalizing experience and concepts. Boundaries and rationalizations place process and product into neat little packages as if they are separate from the whole. Interestingly, psychological defenses have this very quality with the goal of reducing stress and anxiety.

Consider how many times we find athletes in the news or in an event acting in a way that flies in the face of professionalism or codes of fair play. Even sportscasters offer commentary solidifying that mindset can be placed in brackets depending on circumstance:

“Athletes are not role models.”

“Just appreciate their skills and athletic ability rather than their personality, attitude or behaviors.”

“He’s got a temper, but he’s really a nice guy off the (field, court, diamond, golf course).”

“Player X has some problems off the field, but shows up to play.”

The main point is that if one is using a particular mindset in one situation, and a different one in another, then there must be some overall mindset governing the most important actions: choices based in values. For choices govern consequences. If a mindset is “a subset of a way of thinking” then manipulation and self-deceit on or off the field are as likely as any positive outcome. I can think of no other factor that more significantly stunts the trajectory of an athlete’s growth and development.

In the latter explanation of mindset, one that reflects the overall quality of thinking, who you are on the field of play is who you are in life. There is no separation between the player and the person. Who you are in life is who you are on the field of play. There are no boundaries or artificial separations to make. There is a consistency of being that aligns with development and the determination needed to stay with the process of achieving long-term goals.

Next time we will take a closer look at this overarching concept of mindset, its benefits, and how to begin to “think” this way.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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