Finding Your Groove

Distractions and Slumps


Top of the Funnel
Translating Distractions


Additional Reading

Sporting events seldom go exactly as planned. In fact, the competition will deliberately introduce the unexpected and try to knock you out of your groove.


While playing, anything that does not pull you into your concentration funnel is a distraction. If your attention has shifted to something that isn't tied to your specific focus style (visual, auditory, or feeling), you are being pulled out of your funnel.


1. Your Focus Style: Visual. Your distractions would be (anything not visual):

  • A guy yelling at you from the stands.
  • The coaches words going through your mind.
  • The blister starting up on your foot.
  • The player guarding you is talking trash.
  • The band is playing the fight song.

    2. Your Focus Style: Auditory. Your distractions would be:

  • People waving behind the backboard.
  • The feel of the shorts on your leg.
  • The heat.
  • The other team's uniforms.

    3. Your Focus Style: Feeling Your distractions would be:

  • Seeing people walk on the sidelines.
  • The coach yelling instructions.
  • Your mother's voice piercing through the crowd, "Get'em."
  • Your team mate's endless chatter.

  • Now that you think about it, there are a lot of potential distractions.


    Lou said, "Whoa...distractions are everywhere. I can't possibly blank them all out.

    Anne said, "My focus style is visual, but I can't very well ignore my coach's instructions.

    It is difficult to ignore distractions.

    Blocking Out Distractions

    Some players try to blank out distractions. And, as difficult as it sounds, they are often successful. Two styles predominate.

    1. Repetition.

    Part of their success comes from pure repetition. After someone yells at them from the sidelines fifty times, a hundred times, four hundred times, it just doesn't distract them anymore. Those shouts become part of the background. Repetition players acknowledge the benefits of this experience with comments like, "I've been here before."

    The weakness with repetition is exposed when new wrinkles surface. If a high-pitched voice suddenly arises from the stands, it doesn't blend into the background very well. It puts the repetition counter back to zero.

    2. Force of will.

    Other players blank out distractions by forcing their mind to concentrate on the task at hand. They force themselves to just see the rim, or just see the pitch.

    In all fairness, this pure concentration approach is sometimes successful. Strong-willed players can force themselves into ignoring distractions.

    Unfortunately, the force-of-will technique is tricky. First, it's very hard to completely ignore things that are different. Road trips and the introduction of a new offensive strategy can disrupt forced concentration.

    Because tight concentration takes energy, force-of-will players often burn out by the end of the season. They're fried when the playoffs come around. Hitting this concentration wall is so frustrating to these "tightly wound" players that they often drop the sport after one of these cycles.

    A different approach is needed for handling distractions. One that is flexible enough to handle changing conditions and that allows you to interact with others.

    Translating Distractions

    We know from an earlier discussion that your mind will find a way to do what it wants. If your mind wants your attention, it will get it. Distractions that your mind finds interesting are difficult to fight.

    So, let's not fight it.

    1. Notice it.

    The first step in handling any distraction is to notice it. Pay attention to it.

    2. Label it.

    The next step is to label it by Focus Type. Is it visual, auditory, or feeling? Again, don't fight it. Just notice its type.

    At this point, you know two important things. You know your focus style for finding your groove, and you know the focus type of the distraction.

    By nature of being a distraction, the types are usually different. Such as:

    - Visual vs auditory.
    - Visual vs feeling.
    - Auditory vs visual.
    - Auditory vs feeling.
    - Feeling vs visual.
    - Feeling vs auditory.

    Our goal is to move from the distractions type to your personal focus style.


    The solution comes from our ability to translate one type to another. Don't fight it, just morph it into the other type.

    Here's how it works.

    Pay attention to the distraction. Don't fight it. If it's an auditory type, listen to the sound; if it's visual, notice the shapes and colors; if it's feeling, let the sensation catch your attention.

    Once you've got it, look for your type within it. Look for a crossover between the types, then shift the distraction into your focus type.

    Huh? Let's look at a few examples.

    Examples of translating distractions to your Focus Style:

    Visual distraction into an auditory focus.

  • The hands waving behind the backboard. —> You can almost hear the air swishing around them. They're making a swishing noise.

  • Visual distraction into feeling.

  • The fans getting up and down. —> They sort of glide. The motion is smooth. It flows.

  • Auditory distraction into visual.

  • The two guys yelling, "Miss it." —> Their voices are very loud. You can almost see a cloud of sound coming from them. There's a sound cloud coming from that side of the auditorium.

  • Auditory distraction into feeling.

  • The two guys yelling, "Miss it." —> They are loud. You can almost feel a wave of sound coming from them. I can feel the sound wave coming from that side of the auditorium.

  • Feeling distraction into visual.

  • This blistering is bugging me. —> I can picture it. It's red. Really red.

  • Feeling distraction into auditory.

  • I'm hot. Sweat is rolling into my eyes. —> I can almost hear the splashing of the sweat. My body is crying out Hot. I can hear it: "Hot, Hot, Hot..."

  • Your translations don't need to make sense. They can be really stupid. The goal is shift your mind into your unique focus state (visual, auditory, or feeling).

    Once you have your ideal Focus Style working, you are back into your funnel and can use the image (or sounds, or feeling) to slide down into your groove. When you get good at translating these distractions into focusing aids, you can use distractions to actually help you play better.

    There's an advantage hidden here. Distractions tell you where your mind's attention is — that's very useful information. It gives you a specific, concrete starting point for working your way down your concentration funnel.

    And it's all done without fighting your mind.

    Using Props

    Sometimes distractions are minor. In those cases, going through the whole translating procedure is overkill. A simpler approach is called for — use a prop.

    Here's how it works.

    In most sports, you use the same equipment each time you play. In baseball, for example, you have a bat; in tennis, you have a racket; in track, you have your shoes; You can use these props to trigger your Attention —> Focus Style —> Groove sequence.

    Connect your prop to your Focus Style, i.e., the feel of the bat, the color of the putting green, or the swish of the racket. Use this to catch your own attention.

    Be sure to select a prop that fits your personal Focus Style (visual, auditory, or feeling). This is important.

    Because the prop that caught your attention is already in your Focus Style, you have a head start on sliding down your funnel. After you do this a few times, the feeling of gripping the bat, for example, will pull you right into your groove.


    Anne said, "My style is visual, so I used the lines on the court to catch my attention. After a while, just looking at the lines shifted me into my groove."

    Ed said, "My shoes were the constant. I felt the grip of the rubber on the floor."

    Tony said, "I used the sound of my own voice. It wasn't the words so much, but the sound pulled me into the groove."

    Having a preselected set of props offers an effortless way to slide into your groove.


    Slumps are the worst.

    You know how to play. You've been performing well for months, maybe even years. You're healthy; you're energized; and you stink. It's the worst.

    Physical Connection

    If you have a physical problem, it's not a slump. It's physical.

    If your bicep muscle is torn, give it time to heal; if you're drinking twelve cups of coffee and eating twenty donuts a day, get your diet straightened out. If you've picked up bad mechanical habits, get an instructor and hit the practice range.

    These are physical issues that you should be able to solution directly.

    Breaking the Slump

    With no physical problems, it's time to explore "groove" oriented solutions.

    1. Admit it.

    If you admit you're in a slump, you'll do a better job of working through the solutions.

    Okay, don't.

    If you can't admit it, it's not that bad. You can still work through the corrective steps "for fun." Be careful that your stubbornness doesn't hinder the suggested adjustments.

    2. Groove technique.

    You may not have completed the finding-your-groove suggestions from the previous sections.

    This solution is easy. Work through the previous sections with particular attention to identifying your unique Focus Style for that particular sport. If you're trying to visualize when you should be feeling smooth, a slump is one possible outcome.

    3. Broken prop.

    It may be that the prop you devised for slipping you into your groove is broken. It may have gotten contaminated and is now working against you.

    A contaminated prop?

    The mind makes mistakes. It may have accidentally connected the feeling of your shoes on the court with a bad relationship, or with the time you had the stomach flu.

    If you're in a slump, stop using your normal props. Even if they're your super favorite habits, break them off. Stop kicking the dirt, wearing the same shorts, and scratching yourself.

    The worst thing you can do is take something that is working against you and try it harder. Break off all your "lucky" habits.

    You need to start over. Review your groove techniques and build up a concentration system that doesn't rely on props.

    4. Internal Messages

    If the previous steps haven't worked, you may have picked up an internal message that is throwing you off.

    Slumps caused by internal messages are the most difficult to fix.

    What's Next?

    The entire next section deals with internal messages — how to identify them, how to counter them, and if these still persist, how to trick them.

    Additional Reading

    Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D (Volume 2) by Milton H. Erickson, John Grinder, Judith Delozier, Richard Bandler. Metamorphosis Press, 1997.
    * Dr. Erickson is the master at understanding how to shift attention through pacing. It is a crime that Milton Erickson's works are going out of print. If you see one of his books, grab it. He is the master of suggestion. It's possible to study his writings for years and still learn something new each time.

    The Structure of Magic : A Book About Language and Therapy (Vol I) by Richard Bandler, John Grinder. Science & Behavior Books, 1990.
    * These guys were the first to untangle what Milton Erickson was really doing while pacing. They made it possible for users to move beyond imitation and into customization and adjustments. Even Erickson was impressed with their model of linguistic analysis.

    The Structure of Magic : A Book About Communication and Change (Vol II) by Richard Bandler, John Grinder. Science & Behavior Books, 1980.
    * Once you get a taste of Bandler and Grinder, you'll want to get all their books.

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