By: Dr. Rick McGuire
Originally Published in: Techniques Magazine
Provided by: USTFCCCA
WHAT DO ALL COACHES WANT?
I believe that what all coaches may want more than anything else is for their athletes to show up on competition day totally "focused" to deliver their very best performance. Possibly they want even more for their athletes to show up at practice every day totally "focused" to have a great practice, because, if they are focused at practice everyday, they will have
Thinking Right in Sport! (McGuire, 2008) This is the essential understanding and message contained in nearly everything that I share with Coaches and Athletes from Sport Psychology. Thinking Right in Sport! That is as opposed to Thinking Wrong in Sport! It is such a simple concept, and yet for many, such a puzzle. Thinking Right in Sport! It is such a simple concept, but one that really matters. Thinking Right in Sport! It is such a simple concept, and when all is said and done, it is really simple to do.
Nearly all coaches and athletes recognize that wrong thoughts hurt their athletic performance. For any of us, wrong thoughts, negative thoughts and distracted thoughts get in the way and hurt our chance to deliver our best sport performance.
So, if wrong thoughts hurt performance, then right thoughts help sport performance. In fact, right thoughts, positive thoughts and focused thoughts help us to deliver our very best performance. Thinking Right in Sport matters! (McGuire, 2012)
THINKING RIGHT IS A SKILL
Thinking Right is a skill. And, like all skills, Thinking Right can be learned. Just like learning the motor skills that define the Running, Jumping and Throwing that make the sport of Track and Field, Thinking Right is learned through proper instruction, correct modeling, direct personal experiences, and consistent, persistent repetition. Track and Field Coaches are all about teaching skills to their athletes! Coaches can teach, and athletes can and will learn the skills of Thinking Right!
Focus, and being focused, is Thinking Right! Distracted or unfocused would be thinking wrong! Track and Field athletes and coaches can learn the skill of being totally focused for each jump, each throw, each start, each interval, each drill...and then being able to Re-Focus for the next one. Focus is just a thought. Focus is controllable. Focus is just a choice.
Again, thinking is a skill. Just like learning sport skills, let's break down the skill of thinking so we can understand just how simple this really can become.
Thinking Right is a skill. It is the skill of always picking to think a right, positive, focused thought. And, to recognize when there is a wrong thought, all you have to do is pick a right thought, and the wrong thought is gone! Wrong thoughts hurt performance. Right thoughts help performance. We must teach and learn the skill of Thinking Right! We must teach the
Being Focused is a perfect example of Thinking Right. So, this is our goal - To be able to Focus on every run, jump or throw! And, to have the skill to be able to Re-Focus for the next! Remember...
As Track and Field coaches, when we want our athletes to run faster, we do more than just yell "run faster!"
Focus is way more than just Concentration. Focus is Being...
Every one of these are important elements of being in, or having great Focus. And every one of these is just a thought. Because they are just thoughts, any athlete could have every one of them at any time. They are just thoughts, so they are just a choice. Thus, Focus can be completely controlled. Focus is a choice!
Focus is the well spring of "PEAK PERFORMANCE",... of being "IN THE ZONE"...and, of "FLOW"! Focus is the key to GREAT PERFORMANCE!
Focus is the key to unlocking an athlete's kinesthetic genius and brilliant performance. Focus is the catalyst for achieving excellence and success. Ultimately, Focus is a vital key to performing, to achieving, to qualifying, to medaling and to winning!
Thinking comes before performance. Performance comes before outcome. Thus, to give yourself the chance to perform your best, you must have the skill and discipline to be Focused first.
FOCUS is the single most fundamental skill of all SPORT SKILLS! Coaches can teach the Skill of Focus! As Track and Field coaches, we pride ourselves in being great teachers of skills! We now must direct our attention on how to teach the skill of Focus!
TEACHING THE SKILL-SET OF FOCUS
Now we begin to build the skill of focus. There are actually five skills in developing the skill of Focus. They are...
Focus is being "in the moment" and "totally in the present." Both of these describe the Time Orientation of our thoughts. The first skill or step in being able to focus is having the understanding that there is a time orientation in all of our thinking. We are either thinking in, or thinking about the past, the present or the future. See Figure 1.
Figure 1 gives us a good graphic representation of this concept of the Time Orientation of our thinking. (Reardon in McGuire, 2012) The central point is that when it is time to perform, our thinking must be completely in the present, period!
There are certainly times for the athlete's thoughts to be oriented in the past or focused into the future. But not when it is time to perform! Many a potentially great performance has been compromised or totally lost to thoughts about the poor practice session on Wednesday, or to the idea of "we're training through this weekend," or to being tied up into emotional knots over worrying about qualifying for the championships. In each of these cases, having thoughts in the past or the future serve to undermine great performance in the present!
Getting to the present and thinking in the present is really pretty easy. Time Orientation can be controlled by asking one question, and then, by providing
The question: WHERE ARE YOU?
The answer: RIGHT HERE! RIGHT NOW!
AND THEN BE THERE – PRESENT IN YOUR PRESENT!
POSITIVE SELF-TALK: AFFIRMATIONS
Your self-talk is just what you are thinking. Your self-talk, is your own conversation with you. Most important of all, your Self-Talk is the MOST INFLUENTIAL conversation that YOU ever have. And, it is essential that you HAVE POSITIVE
Negative self-talk hurts sport performance. Negative self-talk is thinking wrong. Control it. Change it. Choose positive self-talk, positive thoughts.
It is important that track and field coaches realize that most athletes have developed the habit of very negative self-talk, negative thinking, particularly in the most demanding and challenging situations. This means that they have the habit of thinking wrong! To deliver their very best performance, they necessarily must break this bad, self-defeating habit, and learn the habit of Thinking Right. They must develop the habit and skill of AFFIRMING themselves. They must regularly use affirmations in their normal self-talk.
Affirmations are strong positive statements about yourself! Affirmations are...Strong...Positive...Rational...Strategic...Motivating...and Personal.
Some examples of Positive Affirmations would be:
But, before athletes can Think Right with Affirmations, they must first HAVE affirmations. It is the Coach's role to provide great instruction and encouragement for athletes in writing their own personal affirmations. Coaches are encouraged to use the model and examples provided here, plus their own personal experiences and creativity. But, it is critical that the Coach help the athletes write their own personal affirmations. This will increase the probability that the athletes will identify with their affirmations, and then actually practice using them until they become a habit.
Now when the athletes meet those challenging and difficult situations, and they need to be Thinking Right thoughts, positive thoughts, affirming thoughts, they will HAVE those affirmations there to be used!
COMPOSURE: OPTIMAL AROUSAL
Composure is being in total control of YOU, physically, mentally and emotionally, not too high, not too low, just right. Controlling one's composure is directly related to controlling one's level of arousal. Arousal is your level of "up-ness". Physical arousal would be how "pumped up" you are. Psychological arousal would be how "psyched up" you are. Maintaining composure is controllable. Composure is just Thinking Right! See Figure 2.
Applying this model, it tells us that for any given person, with a given task, on a given day, in a given environment, with a given set of conditions, there is a given level of arousal that will allow for optimal performance. To be able to deliver their best performance, each athlete must get their arousal level to the exact level that is just right for them. If they are under aroused, they cannot perform at their best. If they are over aroused, they cannot perform their best. But if they have just the right arousal level, then they can deliver their best. Arousal level can and must be controlled.
Every person is a little different. Every task is different - the shot put takes a different level of arousal than the 10k. Every day is different, and conditions are always changing. But athletes must be at the right level of arousal to be able to deliver their very best performance! That never changes!
Your athletes may not be able to immediately identify the exact level of arousal that will allow for their very best performance. But nearly all of them will absolutely be able to identify the amount of arousal that is too little, too under aroused, and not enough
With just a little attention, a little instruction, and a little practice experience, your athletes will absolutely be able to identify and get themselves into their Zone. Then, as they gain knowledge, awareness and trust in their skill, they can then narrow their Zone, shrinking their tolerance for error, and increasing the probability that they will deliver their very best possible performance.
Controlling optimal arousal is a primary skill in being FOCUSED. An athlete cannot perform at their best unless they are at their optimal level of arousal. Optimal arousal is a result of Thinking Right! It is just a skill! It can and must be learned and controlled!
CONCENTRATION: FIND WHAT MATTERS!
Concentration is all about finding the right information and then staying focused on it. For every track and field athlete in their competition setting, there is a lot of information available. Some of that information is RELEVANT to their task at hand. This information MATTERS!
But most of the information available is IRRELEVANT to what they are doing. This information does not matter and is just a potential distraction.
Concentration is simply the skill of finding WHAT MATTERS and then staying FOCUSED on that, period! See Figure 3.
This model suggests using a four-step routine. Your first step should be to observe everything during pre-competition warm-up. See it all, the things that do matter and the things that don't matter. As competition time approaches, allow your attention to draw to only the things that do matter. The other stuff just goes away. Your concentration is beginning to narrow.
It's time to go! What's your job? Focus on just a couple of key strategic cues. Your concentration is becoming very narrow, very focused.
Visualize and see yourself perform! See it again, so powerfully that you can actually feel it. This is the connection to your kinesthetic genius. If you can feel yourself perform before actually performing, your concentration is really FOCUSED!
There are no distractions! You are on! You are ready! What is left to do?
Just like in the learning process of any of the physical skills, at first thinking about this routine, taking each step, will at feel awkward. Athletes may think things like "I don't like thinking this much." They will even believe that it is making them perform worse, not better. They will be tempted to give up after the first 5-6 attempts. This is normal. They are in the cognitive stage of learning, where they are thinking about every step. They just haven't repeated this skill enough yet!
Don't give up! They will need at least 100 trials, maybe even 500, before they have formed and fully learned and internalized the skill, before it becomes a well- learned skill. But, unlike physical skills, they can do 100 trials of a mental skill in a very short time. There is no fatigue factor. You can even get as many as 1000 trials done easily in a week. Stick with it and they will have learned and developed the skill of Concentration!
Once it becomes a well-learned skill, they can condense the routine into one continuous thought - "See it! Feel it! Trust it!" This becomes their Concentration mantra and powerful affirmation, repeated over and over again.
"See it! Feel it! Trust it!" See it! Feel it! Trust it!" "See it! Feel it! Trust it!"
When you have Concentration, there are no distractions. Concentration is a way of thinking. Concentration is totally controllable. Concentration affects optimal performance. Concentration is simply a choice. Concentration is Thinking Right! (Vernacchia, McGuire and Cook, 1996).
CONFIDENCE: IS A CHOICE!
Confidence is just a thought. Confidence is not contingent on anything else. Confidence is just a thought. And, just like any other thought, Confidence is a CHOICE! If you want Confidence, just CHOOSE to think CONFIDENCE! (McGuire, 1999)
Confidence is just a thought. Confidence is controllable. Confidence is a skill. Confidence is a Choice!
And, Confidence is YOUR CHOICE! Confidence is Thinking Right! Choose to think and have Confidence! It is that simple!
CONFIDENCE IS REALLY TWO CHOICES!
Confidence is a very important and impacting skill! Confidence is not a trick! And, it is not magic or good luck! It is a skill! Choosing to be confident is really based upon making TWO CHOICES!
Choice #1 - Choose to become more COMPETENT!
Athletes must choose to invest them-selves in getting lots better! Choose
Choice #2 - Choose to Focus on your PERFORMANCE!
Everyone wants to win. And, if winning is important to you, then there is a good chance that you might have reason to worry about losing. Worrying is the opposite of being Confident. And, lack of Confidence hurts performance. Lack of Confidence is Thinking Wrong.
In every competition, the best chance that you have for getting what you want is to PERFORM YOUR BEST. Performance always comes before outcome.
Having Confidence in yourself that you can deliver ALL THAT YOU ARE CAPABLE OF DELIVERING, will give you a better chance of getting out all that you have inside. Confidence has a positive impact on performance. Confidence helps performance! Confidence is Thinking Right. PERFORMANCE comes before OUTCOME! Choose to FOCUS on your PERFORMANCE! Choose to be CONFIDENT that you can and you will DELIVER your BEST PERFORMANCE!
Confidence is just a Thought...thus, Confidence is a CHOICE!
THE PLAN - NEXT, THE DELIVERY
In this first article, we have laid the foundational understanding that FOCUS is a fundamental sport skill. And, like all skills, the skill of Focus can be both taught and learned! We have identified that in fact, there are five specific individual skills that comprise the "skill set" of Focus, just like many skills comprise the skill sets of the high jump or the shot put. These five skills give us the plan for teaching our track and field athletes how to learn to Focus.
In the next issue of Techniques, we will continue with "Teaching Track and Field Athletes the Skill of Focus: Part 2 - The Delivery." There we will describe how the Coach can take Focus to track practice everyday, and how these five skills of Focus can become integrated into the daily routines of every athlete and every coach. This is what we do with all of our other track and field skills!
What does every Coach want? For every athlete to show up on the day of competition totally FOCUSED and intending to deliver their very best performance! FOCUS is a skill! Track
McGuire, R.T. (2012). From the Whistle to the Snap: Winning the Mental Game of Football. Championships Productions. Ames, IA.
McGuire, R.T. (2008). Thinking Right in Sport: The Critical Importance of Mental Training. Techniques. Vol. 1, Number 3
McGuire, R. T. (1999) "Confidence is a Choice", Track and Field Coaches Review, Vol. 72, Issue 1.
McGuire, R. T. (1996), "Ready or Not... the Gun Will Go Off: United States Track and Field Athletes Mental Preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games", Training and Conditioning, Vol VI, No. 4.
McGuire, R.T.,(1992) "Concentration Skills for the Track and Field Athletes: An Application of Cook's Model of Concentration," Track and Field Quarterly, Volume 92 Number 1, Spring.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Techniques in the May, 2012 issue.
DR. RICK MCGUIRE IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE MISSOURI INSTITUTE FOR POSITIVE COACHING. HE RECENTLY RETIRED AS THE DIRECTOR OF SPORT PSYCHOLOGY FOR INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI, AND GRADUATE PROFESSOR OF SPORT PSYCHOLOGY IN THE DEPARTMENT OF