We’re told from childhood that the harder we work, the better the results we’ll get.
However, like many things in life, things aren’t always that simple, and sport can be particularly unpredictable. Things like weather conditions, injuries, the behaviour of our opponents, fans or the venue are just a few of the ‘uncontrollables’ in sport that can go a long way in throwing us off our game if we aren’t ready to accept that they are outside of our direct control.
One of the most important lessons in mental toughness for athletes to learn is how to focus on the things that they do have control over. Sports psychologists have labelled this ‘controlling the controllables’. It’s particularly useful when athletes find themselves in stressful or high pressure environments like cup finals or match point situations.
Often, athletes will blame themselves for things that happen due to factors that simply cannot be controlled. Focussing on the things that cannot be controlled will result in feeling powerless and helpless in high stress situations. This can result in damaged confidence, erratic performance and potential anxiety to compete the next time.
For example, focussing on how well your opponent(s) might be playing will only ever lead to self-doubt and anxiety about your own performance. This is always going to take the focus off of your own game.
Investing time and effort into aspects of the sport we do have control over, encourages athletes to redirect their attention to what is most useful for the competition – their own performance. Equally, it’s important for athletes to let go of what they don’t have control over.
What are the things you can control in sports?
Taking care of your pre-performance preparation will go a long way in taking back control of your game. Ensuring you’re getting the right nutrition and hydration to fuel your training, getting enough sleep and sticking to a training plan will ensure that once you step out to compete, you’ll know you did everything you could to prepare.
Having a coach or mentor to help draw up a game plan of strategies and tactics to use out on the field will offer a more structured approach to competing. In team sports, creating set plays that can be employed once on the field will help you to be in the right position to score or effect the game.
Most importantly, we can always control our attitude and mentality in the moment. Consciously shifting your energy towards the things you can control will ensure you keep a cool head once you start competing. Try writing two lists of all the things you can control about your sport, and all the things you can’t. Doing this will help you to gain clarity about exactly where your focus needs to be when it gets to crunch time.