My dragon boat team had an awesome festival this weekend. Our placement was good, but more than that we performed some amazing starts and showed really good focus through most of the races. But I got to thinking about focus and what improves or reduces our ability to focus on the specific task we are performing. What I found means that I was completely in the right to step in when some of the team started comparing themselves to other paddlers who were perhaps stronger.
A study looked at how worrisome statements affected basketball player’s ability to focus while making free throws. The players listened to either positive or worrisome statements via headphones while making free throws. The researchers compared player focus between the two groups. While making the shots, players (who were all experienced) had to deal with distractions. What they found was that the worrisome statements decreased the number of free throws players made successfully and it decreased their ability to ignore the distractions.
As with many sports, dragon boat races are full of distractions. There are other boats with different calls and different rates. Some drummers/steers even use microphones. There are fans cheering on the side. Commentators. And there are the water dynamics – waves, current, wakes. All this leads to some challenges that paddlers need to focus through and sometimes ignore and sometimes adapt to. That means that we need to maximize focus. Looking at other paddlers, or thinking about disadvantages such as lane selection (which has a big impact when racing on the river and everyone knows it) is the equivalent of listening to worrisome thoughts and diminishes the ability to focus.
This makes me wonder, is part of the team’s success a result of the overall positive and engaged personality of the team? We get along well, we joke, we stay relaxed, and we generally stay positive. But we are human, we see the obvious, so the next step is to figure out how to get positive thoughts back when we do let the worries creep in?