Dealing With Distractions In Competitive Sports
By David Gromping
This article was written in the context of tennis, but is applicable to any other sport and even business situations where you may become distracted.
Often times, we are not playing tennis, or any other sport for that matter, in a vacuum. There are things going on that can serve as distractions, making it harder for us to focus and play well.
I am often asked, “how do I focus despite XYZ distraction?”
If you have ever asked this question, this article is for you!
First, lets name a few common distractions:
-People on a court next to you
-People yelling or talking near you
-Objects coming on to your court
-Noise or noises
And there are certainly more!
In this article, we are not going to get into the distraction/challenge of focusing while people are watching- this is a whole different can of worms which I will deal with another time. Here, we are dealing with stuff that is happening around us that can derail our focus.
Now that we have a few of our most likely distractions on the mat, lets talk about how to play great in spite of them!
First off, lets lump the things that can cause us to be distracted into a category called “circumstances.” These are things that can happen or go on, that we may or may not have control over. It is actually likely that we do not have control over them.
In whatever we are doing, we always have a focus, whether we are aware of it or not. A lot of times when it gets windy, the player on the court next to you is having a tantrum or you have a blister, this circumstance becomes your focus. And you start complaining to yourself about it. Having a circumstance be your focus is not being mentally tough because you cannot focus on this circumstance and how to win at the same time. IMPOSSIBLE!
So the first part to realize is that your circumstance becomes your focus and it is ineffective for winning.
What there is to do is to shift your focus from your circumstance to your strategy, game plan or something else that actually does have something to do with winning.
For some of you, this may be easy, for others, it is harder. That is OK because next we are going to get into what keeps your focus stuck on the circumstance so you can get it unstuck.
The first thing that has us get stuck is thinking about how this particular circumstance is bad/wrong/should not be. What goes hand in hand with this notion is we start to resist the circumstance being there. The more you get mad at the circumstance, think about how bad it is and the more you resist it being there, the worse your mental toughness will be. Giving up the notion that it is bad/wrong and resisting it is the first step to more easily shifting your focus to something productive. Getting mad at the circumstance and resisting it will not change it anyhow.
The second is that focusing on the circumstance is a way to get off of the hook from actually focusing and being tough. Focusing is hard and takes a degree of intellectual effort. It is easier and lazier to blame a circumstance for having you lose focus and play badly than actually be mentally tough to focus and win. You have to give up letting yourself off of the hook from really focusing by blaming the circumstances to be mentally tough in dealing with distractions.
We often have the view that the particular circumstance is making us get distracted and we have no choice in the matter. Wrong. The circumstance is happening and then we allow ourselves to get distracted.
Another useful thing to remember is that for many distractions such as the weather or noise, they are happening to the other person too, not just you.
Distractions happen and make it tougher to focus. But to play well and win, you have to use mental toughness to surmount them. Mental toughness is a muscle like any other and it takes using it to force your focus away from circumstances and towards what is going to help you win. If being mentally tough and winning were easy, everyone would be doing it!