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Mental Toughness and the 3 moments in Sport

The 4C’s of mental toughness – Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence provide athletes with a robust framework to assess, identify and develop their mental toughness. The Control and Commitment scales can be developed by improving attention control – our ability to focus, sustain attention and concentrate for longer. Let’s see how this relates to sport.

There’s a lot to read about being in the present moment to enable clarity of thought and focus for the situation that an athlete is in. I like to distil this down to three specific moments.

Let’s take golf as an example and the premise of the game revolving only around 3 shots (this premise could easily apply to many other sports).

  1. The previous shot that you took immediately prior to the current shot (the past)
  2. The shot that you are about to take (the present)
  3. The next shot after that (the future)

As you stand over the shot you are about to take, your focus should only be on that shot right now. Your pre-shot routines, the address and what you see (internally or externally), hear (internally or externally) or feel (physical sensation or emotion) and the act of actually taking the shot until completion. These are the only things you can directly control. When your attention is completely on this, you stand the best possible chance that you will successfully achieve what you want to.

If you are still focusing on the previous shot, because you didn’t execute it as you wanted to e.g. poor strike, hit out of bounds, hit into the water, sliced or hooked or duffed, you cannot be 100% focused on the present moment. If the thoughts or beliefs you have about what happened the shot before are still present in your mind, then this will have a strong chance of distracting you from what you need to do to execute the current shot to the standard you want.

If your focus is on the shot that you will take after the current one, e.g. “I need to get this on the green as my chipping isn’t very good”, “I need to par this hole to stay ahead”, “It’s always a tough putt on this green” etc. then again, this will have a strong chance of distracting you from the present moment focus on the current shot.

Yes, it’s a good thing to plan your strategy around a course as you play and identify where you want the ball to be, but this has to happen before you sink into the present moment to focus completely on the current shot that will help achieve your future strategy.

If you can remember to and practice getting yourself into the present moment to execute the current shot and eliminate all thoughts of what happened previously and/or what is to come, then you give yourself the best possible chance to play consistently good golf.

This principle can apply to any sport, not just golf. The past, present and future always exists no matter sport you are playing.

So how do you get into the present moment and execute a successful strategy for the current shot? The often talked about way is to become aware of and focus on your breath, in particular the rate and quality of your breath and the rise and fall of your chest. This is always a highly effective technique.

However, not everyone is the same and other players may prefer to:

  • Feel the sensation of their feet on the ground and bring their body online by gradually directing attention upwards to other body parts.
  • Feel the sensation of their hands holding the club and how much pressure they need to exert.
  • Focusing visual attention to a piece of equipment e.g. the ball or club head.
  • Using a word or phrase that immediately brings them into the now.

There are several ways in which a player can get themselves into the present moment and this may be a combination of different things or just one thing. The important thing to remember is to find a way that works for you and train it until it becomes something that is useful to you.

The greatest limiter or expander of our potential is our ability to be in the present moment for as long as possible when we really need to be. Remember, it’s often the shot before or a concern or worry about what is ahead on that hole that causes problems for the current shot. So give yourself every chance of being successful, hone in on the moment right now and become a present moment master.

The only place that you can perform is in the present moment. The only moment in sport that really matters.

Developing your mental toughness can significantly enhance your performance in your sport. Why leave things to chance when you can develop the mindset to deal with your sport as it happens, taking setbacks in your stride and understanding that you will experience ups and downs but that you can see opportunity even in the challenging times.

Get in touch and we can talk about how you can assess and develop your mental toughness and consistently thrive in your sport.

Steve Dent is a Mental Toughness Coach & Trainer, Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), an MTQPlus mental toughness licenced practitioner and founder of Pro Mind Coaching & Training.

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