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 How to keep your focus?

Martijn Veltkamp explores the deeper thought processes around improving your sports performance

Whether it is about a short but high-intense discipline like a 200 metre sprint or a long-distance effort like in cycling, focus matters. In a sprint, everything should go exactly right, and your focus must be 100%. For long-distance events your focus will grow ever higher as you come closer to the finish line, but it is equally important. So how do you get and keep your focus?

1.    Goal in mind: It is hard to focus if you’re not completely clear about what you want to achieve. So always keep your goal in mind, because that is the beacon that your focus is working for.

2.    Be selective in your attention: Right before the start of a race it is important that your mind is thinking of nothing else. Be sure that you are well-prepared so you don’t have to deal with unforeseen events (pro-cyclist Oscar Freire famously forgot his racing shoes at the start of a race; that will hurt your focus surely!). Mentally visualize the race before the start, or engage in self-talk, thus encouraging yourself. Don’t get distracted by other business like your phone, or conversations on unrelated matters. 

3.    Refocus: You can either focus internally (on your body or technique) or externally (environment, competition). It helps if you can easily switch from one to the other; and you could practice on this while training. When you’re in pain for example, you tend to focus internally. But you’d better focus externally; that has been shown to even objectively reduce your pain experience!

4.    Use your senses: When you give it your all, it is hard to keep focused. To focus externally, it then helps to use all your senses. Consciously register what you are seeing. Wat do you hear? What do you smell? In doing so you will redirect your attention.