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Mental Game Coach: How to stay focused when it matters most.

Even a momentary lapse of focus on the golf course can lead to trouble. Photo: John Whinery / PDGA Media

By Dane Anderson

On the course there are many distractions that can interfere with a disc golfer’s ability to focus on the shot at hand. Whether it’s chatter from other players, the direction and speed of the wind, or thoughts about the next hole, opportunities to lose concentration right before a shot abound. Our minds synthesize countless pieces of information through the five senses at such a rapid pace, no wonder focusing can be so difficult. Add to these distractions the pressure of an important shot that could put you in the lead, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

Or do you?

Disc golfers can benefit from developing what are often referred to as focus and refocus plans, which work as psychological blueprints for success in blocking out irrelevant information and maintaining concentration on the present moment. Rather than fixating on what could go wrong or what you are dissatisfied with, focus and refocus plans enable you to manage thoughts and sensations that can alter your attention just enough to miss a critical shot.

What is focus?

Focus can be defined simply as the ability to direct your attention where you want it to go. One way to think of it is to imagine a camera lens. As a lens can clarify and magnify an object in the distance, so your mind is capable of centering on data you deem significant to your task. Your thoughts need a place to land and with the right tools and dedicated practice you will begin to notice that focusing on what is most relevant in the present moment becomes second nature.

Focus plans function as preparation check lists for performance. When you give yourself brief and structured prompts to direct your attention where it should go, your mind will follow. Plans consisting of three steps are often sufficient. For example, a solid focus plan for a putt might look like this:

  • Take a deep breath, relaxing your shoulders as you exhale
  • Pick a visual target (for example, a link within a chain on the basket)
  • Imagine throwing the disc and watching it sink into the basket

Once you have accomplished each step to your level of satisfaction, you are ready to throw. There are many other steps you can use as well, such as taking a practice swing, shaking your throwing arm out, or briefly closing your eyes. The point is to be consistent with your focus plan, even if you miss the shot. The more committed you are to narrowing your focus on the immediate task, and what you need to do to prepare for it, the better your chances are of blocking out distractions and delivering in the clutch.

On the other hand, let’s say you are working through your focus plan and suddenly you hear or see something that disrupts your concentration. There is no way to block out every distraction every time, but you can have another plan to refocus on the situation in front of you. The key here is allowing yourself to come back to the distraction after your shot. Chances are, whatever took your mind off the moment can wait a few more seconds.

Like focus plans, refocus plans should be short and simple, and fit within the time limits set by PDGA excessive time rule. I like ones that begin with the same letter for the sake of continuity. For example: Feel the distraction, freeze it in the corner of your mind for now, which frees you to restart your focus plan. It may sound simple, but these gentle reminders to yourself will enable you to dedicate your focus on getting the job done without feeling hurried or distracted. Your attention is valuable. Investing effort into practicing these mental skills will pay dividends on the course.

Dane Anderson is a doctoral candidate offering sport psychology and mental skills training services to athletes looking to improve their mental game. He teaches skills including goal-setting, self-talk and imagery. Contact him at [email protected] or call 541-414-4289