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Ben Torres's picture

A lack of concentration is one of the many reasons athletes fail to reach their goals

I honestly believe that one of the many reasons elite athletes fail to reach their goals is a lack of concentration at the right moment. I don't mean a lack of concentration per say. Elite athletes possess a form of focus and commitment that sometimes go beyond our ability to comprehend. What I am referring to is a lack of concentration at a time when it really matters. It could be an important game that you're playing, some milestone you are about to reach, or it could be a team you are trying out for. Whatever event it is, it's something that will take you to that next level. But as these important moments reach their peak, distractions and obstacles suddenly loom that can easily steer an athlete off path. But it's at this moment, in my opinion, that truly defines the athlete.

Now I am not a sports psychologist or mental coach, so I cannot easily attest to any clinical research that I have done, but I have worked with a few professional sports teams that have made it to championship games. And the one thing I have noticed is that teams and athletes that fall short of reaching their goals, often do so with some underlying obstacle or distraction associated with it. And this seems evident throughout the season as well. In some of the teams I have worked with, I have seen many athletes get released or traded in the middle of the season due to a sudden decrease in their performance level. You could never identify exactly what the cause for the lack of performance was, but as an athletic trainer that has the benefit of knowing what goes on with these athletes on both a medical and personal level, I can say that many of them fell victim to their personal distractions. And it didn't matter how much talent or ability an athlete had. They would get so frustrated and overwhelmed with their concerns, that they would simply forget about the team goal. And these distractions varied- a death in a family, contract frustrations, frustrations with the team, disagreements with the coach, too much partying, and of couse, injury. Regardless of what the issue was, the results were similar- athletes would show up late to practice, miss team meetings, or rebel against the coach. They would, as one would expect, end up getting benched or released due to poor performance on the field. 

But distraction can also have a negative impact on the most successful teams and athletes. Teams would make it all the way to the championship game. But when they did, they would get bombarded by media criticisms. planned celebrations after the game, and the bonuses they would get if they win. They would get so sidetracked that by gametime, they would simply get overwhelmed by their opponents. 

And then there are those athletes that seem to thrive in moments of immense pressure and distraction. Athletes, regardless of injury, criticism, or family problem, would be able to step up and excel at just the right moment when called upon. I've been fortunate to work with some of these athletes and it seems to me, that what really sets them apart from the rest is their ability to simply push forward and concentrate on the task at hand. The concept that sports psychologists and coaches often refer to as being in "the zone" or in "the moment" is never more evident than with these successful athletes.

Now while it is up to the athlete to determine his/her own destiny and excel, I believe that as strength coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, sports psychologists, and medical doctors, we should continue to find ways in our own professions to facilitate this level of mental fortitude that successfull athletes possess. It's not enough to simply get an athlete back to physical shape, because as we have seen throughout sports history, it is often an athletes mental ability that determines success. While it may fall primarily to the sports psychologist and team coach to inspire and train these athletes mentally, I believe, we as allied health professionals, have a responsibility to help these athletes stay focused on their goals.

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