The notion of training athletes to refocus during the down-time in sport can potentially result in improved performance (Loehr, 1994). Down-time refers to a break in the competitive action during the game. Examples of down-time include the time between pitches in a baseball game, between shots in a golf tournament, or between points in a tennis match. Down-time can have either a positive or negative impact on performance.
Consider the following:
* A referee stops play in a basketball game and the visiting player goes to the foul line to shoot the free throws. The athlete mentally pictures the front of the rim and the arc of the shot and avoids listening to the hostile crowd. The athlete calmly executes the free throws.
* A tennis player makes an unforced error…..
…… on the backhand and is visibly upset at the end of the point. The athlete continues to think about the mistake into the next few points and proceeds to lose the game.
* A professional golfer has much down-time between the fairway shot and the putt on the green. During the extended break of competition, the anxious golfer relaxes by repeating the word ‘calm’ several times. The golfer proceeds to successfully birdie the putt.
Positive refocusing skills were demonstrated by the basketball player and golfer and a lack of these skills was exhibited by the tennis player. The basketball player and golfer observed relevant competitive or control cues (the rim, repeating the word ‘calm’) while the tennis player continued to think about a previous mistake or error. Positive internal and external cues must be consciously attended to in order to avoid a break in concentration and a drop in overall performance.
Research supports the association between the ability to refocus and athletic performance. For example, a study on archery performance revealed a significant relationship between focusing on past mistakes and a performance decrement (Landers, Boutcher, & Wang, 1986). Sports with long periods of down-time are most prone to distractions. Tennis, a sport with much more down-time than competitive action, averages 28.5 seconds of between-point time on hardcourts, according to official men’s professional tour statistics (Loehr, 1994). Down-time can truly become more of an opponent than the competition!
Mental strategies for refocusing during down-time include:
* Positive physical responses. Athletes must hold their head and shoulders high after a temporary setback. The “no problem, I’ll get the next one” attitude will help an athlete refocus quickly during down-time.
* Relaxation techniques. Many athletes experience a high anxiety state during competition. Focusing on slowing ones breathing to trigger a relaxation response during down-time allows the athlete to refocus.
* Develop visual and verbal cues. Develop a visual and verbal cue to aid refocusing during down-time. A tennis player might stare at the racquet strings between-points while repeating a pre-determined relaxation or psych-up word.
* Mentally rehearse the correct physical movements. Mentally practicing proper skills or strategy can be done during sport down-time. Research indicates that athletes are most likely to engage in some form of visualization prior to the start of each new point or shot (Loehr, 1994).
* Watch the pros. Videotape and take note of what the professionals do during the crucial down-time periods in sport. Viewing the down-time routine of an accomplished athlete will provide an example that may be modeled.
* Practice, Practice, Practice! Use all of the above techniques and practice them as one would practice a forehand drive or a free-throw shot.
Consistent positive actions during down-time enable athletes to achieve an optimal mental state within a few seconds. The ability to refocus before each competitive situation is necessary for athletic success!
The above article was written by Joseph Pacelli and appears on Selfhelp Magazine. Here’s the full article including references.