Focus is often used synonymously with attention and concentration to indicate selectively attending to task relevant cues. However, in Mental FITness focus has a much broader meaning encompassing confidence, poise, composure, present moment awareness, mindfulness, resiliency, flexible thinking, and concentration (McGuire, 2012). It is no coincidence that focus appears in many of the leading practitioners approaches to performance excellence (see Aoyagi & Poczwardowski, 2012) and is at the hub of Orlick’s Wheel of Excellence (Orlick, 2012). Focus is the essential ingredient in both practice (i.e., learning and development of skills) and performance (i.e., delivering learned and developed skills). Due to the brevity of this overview, I will provide a short example of one of the most important aspects of focus, mindfulness, with the understanding that there is much more that could be said on the topic.
Mindfulness encapsulates many of the core concepts in Mental FITness. Kabat-Zinn (1994) defined mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (p. 4). A more elaborate definition of mindfulness was offered by Bishop et al. (2004) and included two components: self-regulation of attention and acceptance of one’s experiences in the present moment. Self-regulation of attention incorporates the skills of sustained attention (i.e., maintaining vigilance for prolonged periods of time), attention switching (i.e., flexibility of attention allowing for shifting of focus), and inhibiting elaborative processing (i.e., not getting caught up in ruminative thoughts about experiences and instead directly experiencing events). These definitions contain many of the conditions facilitating flow (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999) as well as provide a deeper understanding for the Self 1 and Self 2 made famous by Gallwey (1997), which pertains to trust as will be discussed later.
Through the attentional skills fostered by mindfulness, performers are able to more effectively keep their mind on what is relevant to performance. Furthermore, when things go wrong (e.g., opponent playing better than expected, bad calls from officials, unexpected weather), mindful performers are better able to recognize when their attention shifts and to bring it back to where it needs to be for effective performance. Thus, focused performers keep their attention on task longer, are more flexible and adaptive, stay in the moment, are self-aware, and are able to quickly refocus when needed.