Achieving Optimal Performance: Focus, 6th in a Series

Focus your thoughts and actions on one small aspect of the present, and you will create personal power” – Chungliang Al Huang

Focus is the process of narrowing your concentration in order to eliminate unproductive or distractive occurrences. It means keeping the mind here and now. By focusing, you can fine-tune your attention  so that you stay on the moment. In the Tao of Leadership, John Heider states “Expeditions into distant lands of one’s mind distract from what’s happening. By staying in the present, you can do less, yet achieve more.

As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Concentration becomes relaxed. Jerry Lynch, in his book Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, teaches us that “Relaxed concentration is the supreme art, because no art can be achieved without it, while with it, much can be achieved.” When Soren, a sixty five year old ultra distance runner reached the finish line of a hundred mile marathon, a reporter asked him how someone his age runs a hundred miles. “I don’t run a hundred miles. I run one mile a hundred times” he said.

Developing the power to devote full attention to the present is one of the most valuable skills in achieving optimum performance. The mind naturally wants to predict the future or mull over the past. We want things to be different from the way they are, and that pulls our minds into an unreal world. But this only puts pressure on you and affects your concentration. The only way to make something positive happen is to focus on it in the present moment. Concentrate on what you have control over. You can’t control your opponent, the weather or the crowd. But you can control your own performance.

To learn to focus, you must practice. The key to achieving focus at will is to choose a small aspect of your activity and dwell on it. Whatever you choose will involve one of three senses: seeing, hearing or feeling. The problem is the mind has difficulty focusing on a small thing for a long time.

There are two things a player must know on every shot: where the ball is, and where the racket is. It is easy to see the tennis ball, but how many players see the exact pattern made by the  seams of the ball as it spins? When looking for the pattern made by the seams of of the ball, you will discover that you see the ball much better than when you are just “watching” it. Because it is such a subtle thing, it engrosses the mind completely. The mind is so busy watching the seams of the ball, it forgets to try too hard. The best way to maintain focus, is to assume you don’t know much about the ball, no matter how many balls you’ve hit. Not assuming you already know is a powerful principle of focus. It

Most players see where the ball is, but very few know where their  racket heads are, especially when they start to move around. To maintain focus, try saying the following mantra: “Ball”, “Bounce”, “Hit”. Say “Ball” when the opponent strikes the ball, “Bounce” when it bounces on your side and “Hit” when you’re hitting. The words will keep you in the present and make you feel calm. It is difficult to say these words and worry about the score at the same time.

It is easy to lose focus in between points. The best thing to do is to focus on your breathing. Notice that each inhalation carries oxygen that will bring calm throughout your body. As you exhale, notice that your breath carries away not only carbon dioxide, but also all your tension and anxiety.

The secret is not to think. That means quieting the mind so that the body can do instinctively what it’s been trained to do without the mind getting in the way. The only way to keep the mind in the present is through practice. Train the mind to focus through things like meditation, yoga and visualization exercises


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