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It’s down to the end of the final quarter. The crowd is cheering and the player catches his breath before attempting the shot. He breathes in, runs forward and kicks towards the goal—and misses. Afterwards on the drive home, he complains to his friend about “the awful northerly wind” and that “rude spectator that screamed right as I was about to kick”. Sound familiar?

It can be easier to externalise the reasons for a poor performance, rather than take responsibility and look inward. But when we assign blame to circumstances and events that are beyond our control, our concentration is taken away from the task at hand. One solution? Focus on things within our control – what we like to call, the controllables.

What are Controllables?

Controllables describe a process through which we dedicate our energy, attention and focus to factors influencing our performance – factors that are within our control. Broadly speaking, these are our thoughts, emotions and behaviours and can include our pre-performance routine, self-talk and attention. Given the multitude of factors athletes face that can influence their performance, it’s important that we identify and understand  controllables so we can stay focused on the task at hand.

How to Focus on Controllables

The following activities can be used to enable you to focus on what you can control and help you to position yourself to perform at your best.

  • Enhance awareness of the controllable and uncontrollable. Create two lists, one  with factors within your control and that you can do something about, and another with what is outside of your control that you can’t do anything about. These lists could be created in the lead up to an event so you’re aware of what might influence your performance and where you’re prioritising your energy.
  • Develop ‘what if’ scenarios. Formulating these scenarios can help you to be prepared for any challenges that you may come up against during competition. Each challenge can be explored with respect to whether it is within or outside of your control, and what can be done if the challenge were to arise. For example, an 800m runner might be concerned with “what if it rains tomorrow?”. Addressing this ‘what if’ scenario will help the runner identify that the weather is outside of his control, but remembering to wear the appropriate running spikes is within his control.

If you’d like to read more about controllables, here are some resources to help:

‘I focus on controlling the controllable’ says Asher-Smith ahead of Tokyo 2020, Runner’s World [Article]

Control the Controllable, Fearless Mind [Article]


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