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Putting Pressure in the Past: Harness Focus and Calm During Your Athletic Performances

By Tom Rohrer, PhD

You’ve probably heard all sorts of sports terms for athletes who are cool under pressure and maintain composure during the most important moments of the game. They’re often said to be “clutch,” “cool-headed,” or to have “ice in their veins.” 

Here’s what we mean: Think about a game-winning free throw with two seconds left, or in football, a 50-yard game-tying field goal. In these types of situations, your brain and body need to stay calm and focused.

In fact, all sports and athletic competitions are a series of situations where the pressure is on and a clear mind is essential for success. Many athletes refer to this mental state as “hyperfocus” or “the zone.” Essentially, they are describing situations when the mind/body connection becomes fluid. The following are some classic examples:

  • Pressure putts during a round of golf
  • Batting with two strikes during a baseball game
  • Pitching with a 3-2 count
  • Striking a one-timer in hockey
  • An important volley during a tennis match
  • Battling through a side stitch in track and field
  • Maintaining your pace during a swimming meet

Are you an athlete looking to improve your performance during tense game-time situations like these? Perhaps you’ve found yourself floundering when the game gets close, or maybe you are someone who has always been cool under pressure and are looking to maintain your high-level performance. 

If this sounds like your situation, you are probably wondering how you can practice the skill of focusing. Is it possible to train your brain to be totally “in the zone?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

At the Brainspotting Performance Center, Mental Performance Consultant Tom Rohrer, Ph.D, has worked with numerous athletes of all skill levels to improve their performance during high-stress athletic activities by helping them learn how to find a level of increased focus often called “the zone.”