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Mental Focus During Sports (Centering)

Centering allows athletes to recover composure


Updated December 02, 2007

Centering during sports is critical to stay focused and avoid distractions. It helps an athlete stay in the moment and release past and future thoughts, worries and plans.

Sports psychologists recommend centering techniques to reduce anxiety and stress. These techniques allow athletes to pay attention to their body and breathing, redirecting their focus from the negative- or anxiety-causing event to the present task.

Centering Techniques
The first aspect of centering involves focusing on the rate of breathing and maintaining a slow, steady pace. Breathe in through the nose, and feel the air fill your lungs. Exhale through your mouth. It may help to have a key word (mantra) to repeat that helps you refocus on what you want to do. For example, 'relax,' or 'steady.'

To do this automatically when you need it (during the stress of competition or training), you must practice it often. Use your training sessions to try various centering techniques and find the best one for you. Refocus and get 'centered' at every break, rest period or when there is a pause in the action.

This process aims to keep you in the present, help you drop any baggage you carry about performance anxiety, expectations, or 'what-ifs.' If you develop an automatic relaxation response, it will change how you feel about what you are doing. Then, you will have less stress, enjoy performing and as a result, have more success.

Also see:


Biofeedback and relaxation techniques improve running economy in sub-elite long distance runners., Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 31(5):717-722, May 1999.

Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Robert Stephen Weinberg, Daniel Gould, 4th Edition. 2007.

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