Concentration is paying attention to the right things at the right time. Along with physical skills, strong mental skills are an essential for peak performance. It is the mind that often holds us back. In the heart of a race many things compete for your attention, distracting you from your goal objective. With strong concentration skills you can focus your thought and attention on performance, ignoring distractions.
When 2002 Ultraman winner Gordo Byrn was asked what he thought about during the 10k swim, he replied “my stroke.”
During the pre-season physical training is focused on building general fitness. As the race season rolls around training becomes more specifically geared towards race performance. Mental training follows the exact same pattern of general to specific, from pre-season to peak season. A general mental training ability to practice during the pre-season, is concentration. Many race specific skills, such as self-talk control, focus under pressure and mental imagery, are built using concentration skills. With excellent concentration skills, you can control what thoughts are present in your mind and focus your attention where you desire. Learning to focus your mind requires practice and time. Developing the power to focus full attention on one task can be done with simple exercises performed daily.
Focus on One Task Count your pulse for 60 seconds without thinking about anything else. If other thoughts wander into your mind, start over. The goal is to have 60 continuous seconds with your complete attention focused on one task. This exercise builds the skills of attention focusing, distraction filtering, thought control and self-talk control. For an advanced exercise, maintain your concentration uninterrupted for five minutes.
Maintain a Clear Mind Start the timer on your watch, close your eyes and clear your mind of any thoughts. Maintain a clear mind with no thoughts for as long as you can. Note the length of time you were able to maintain this concentration. Aim to lengthen this time with practice.
Control Distracting Thoughts Fill your mind with many thoughts about training, racing, work, family, finances etc until your head is buzzing. Then choose a single thought to keep in your mind and quiet all of the other thoughts. Continue to think only about this single thought for one minute.
Observe One Function Clear your mind of all thoughts. Use all of your senses to observe your breath. Listen, feel and hear the air moving in and out of your lungs. Recognize and quiet any distractions.
When you have mastered the art of concentration, race specific mental training will be easy.