Master The Five Pillars of Athletic Mental Toughness, Part 2: Enhance Your Focus

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Dwyane Wade pre-game focus.

Want to take your game to the next level and reach your full athletic potential? Physical training will only get you so far. Success in sports depends on several mental toughness variables.

The good news for athletes is that mental toughness can be developed. The "Five Pillars of Mental Toughness" are skills you can learn and use, leading directly to your future sport success.

The second pillar is focus, and it is often the critical difference between two equally talented athletes. Focus keeps you involved in the game, ready to react instantly.

The following tips can help you improve your focus:

  • Determine what is relevant and ignore irrelevant distractions. Identify the factors that are most closely tied to your future athletic success—like staying in top physical condition, eating right and getting proper rest—and block out irrelevant factors, like comments about you in sports chat rooms. Remember, the only important play is the next one, so be sure to focus accordingly.
  • Journal your progress. Keep a journal that includes your written goals, daily accomplishments and notes to yourself about continuing to improve for the future. Since human memory can sometimes be sketchy, it is important to develop your own journaling system to help improve your focus.
  • Balance your time. It can be easy to devote nearly all of your time to sports, but your focus will actually improve by keeping a balanced schedule. Prioritize school, family and other important areas of your life as much as you do sports. When you do this, you will notice your motivation increasing and you will feel fresher when playing (and reduce the risk of  burnout).
  • Develop a cue word. A cue word can be a single word, phrase or acronym designed to help you focus. For example, you might write the words "state champion" on the palm of your hand and look at them periodically throughout a game.
  • Ask questions. Identify mentors who can help you succeed, such as your coach, athletic director or other adults with knowledge and/or experience in sports. Ask them for advice and take note of what they offer.


Dr. Chris Stankovich is a licensed professional clinical counselor and the founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, a counseling and performance center based in Columbus, Ohio. He offers performance-enhancement assistance to athletes, teams and coaches in areas of athletic improvement, wellness, leadership, life skills and career development. Learn more about Dr. Stankovich's work by visiting his website,

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